A word from Victoria I.S.D. Superintendent Quintin Shepherd

Closing thoughts: Look up

The following is an article provided by Supt. Quintin Shepherd of the Victoria I.S.D.

How are you today? It’s a simple enough question. If I asked you directly, you could answer directly. How is the project coming along? Another straightforward question with a straightforward answer. When do we expect to (fill in the blank)? Have you ever paid much attention to the questions we ask each other? I started noticing this several years ago after reading an article in Inc. about the “best conversation starters” for a social business gathering. The premise of the article is that most, nearly all, people ask very surface level questions which lead to surface level responses and that is true enough. The article went on to list 20 conversation-starting questions that would allow for deeper and more meaningful connections.

I used what I learned from this article, and it worked well. I did, in fact, have better and deeper connections with people I was meeting for the first time and was generally pleased. But I remained curious about what was happening, so I just kept doing it, thinking about it, and watching others. One day, I noticed something curious. If you ask me a straightforward question, your eyes are generally locked on mine, and when I respond my eyes stay locked on you. When I first noticed this, it reminded me of my youth when we used to visit the bank and had to interact with a bank teller. The conversation is transactional. I ask a question for a piece of information, and you provide the information. This is transactional. Asking about the weather, your health, your job, etc. are all transactional questions. If I have a thing I need to say, I just say it and don’t really think about it much. Responding without thinking feels somehow cold, and shallow. And you can’t blame the person responding because after all, you asked the question!

Imagine you’ve never met me before and as we are being introduced, I ask you, “What is the one thing you’ve done in your life that you are most proud of?” Your eyes will do something different the moment I ask the question, and in my experience, this happens 100% of the time. Your eyes dart upwards. Maybe for just a split second or maybe for an extended period. This is usually followed by a furrowing of the brow and maybe a
tilt of the head. It is predictable and fascinating. This is a movement from a transactional relationship to a transformational one. This is what makes the conversation meaningful. This is how an open heart becomes an open mind, and this is what opens the door for compassionate connections. “If you could change just one part about your job, what would it be and why?” Transformational provides an opportunity for the person to share their suffering (compassion is to suffer with). Compassionate connections are deep and meaningful. The best part about these questions isn’t the questions, but the answers. You cannot give me a canned response but must take a moment to consider and reflect. That moment of pause makes us think before responding. That’s cool, almost like mind control.

The beautiful part is that these opportunities exist everywhere. They could be at church, in an elevator, in the back of an Uber, or just about anywhere and in nearly any situation. It is simply a choice to be transformational. Transactional is easier, the questions are easy to remember, and the answers are easily forgotten. Transformational requires us to be deliberate and disciplined about our interactions, both the
questions and the answers.

I am going to take a sharp turn, so hang on. Once I noticed this thing about the eyes, I started noticing it in other places as well. One of the most interesting to me is a cell phone. Most folks look down at their cell phone whether they are doing email, texting, or on social media. We are locked on what we read and locked on what we write. When I think about nearly all the things that happen on those platforms they are largely transactional in the same way I described above. And the whole world is happening just about three inches up if we could only get people to look up.

So, what would make you look up?

By Supt. Quintin Shepherd of the Victoria I.S.D.