Do you connect in the “me-me” or in the “me-you” mode?

Walking back to my car after a two-hour coaching session, I came across this billboard in New York’s Meatpacking district. Here it was, bold and bright, and coincidently it perfectly framed the struggle my client was faced with, based on her 360-degree feedback: how to better forge relationships.  My client, Irena[1], a powerhouse in a major investment bank, had been told by her peers, direct reports and supervisor that her interaction with others was driven by a “Me-Me” lens. If she were to stay on then she needed to move towards a greater “Me-You” perspective.

Both styles refer to how we connect with others. The “Me-Me” approach is characterized by treating the other like an extension of the self, as an object that is there to serve our own needs and purposes. Often we project our own thoughts and emotions onto the other person, assuming that they must reflect these. There is no feedback loop between our and the other person’s reality. Few questions are asked, we pretty much stay in our own orbit. Most likely this is not even the result of malicious intent, often high performers used to relying solely on their own efforts fail to make the shift to the “Me-You” perspective when they are given the responsibility for managing teams.

Being treated like an object carries costs, both for the sender of this message, and for its recipient. Neuroscientific research tells us that the same area in the brain lights up when it comes to being treated in a “Me-Me” mode as it does for physical pain. No surprise, the recipient experiences such a lack of social attunement as a harsh sting. Over time, the sender also pays the price for their lack of looping with their environment, resulting in a significant amount of stress.

Most of us have taken on the role of sender and receiver in the “Me-Me” mode. We may have quickly glanced at a direct report’s powerpoint and not appreciated their hard work. We may have forgotten to inquire about our boss’s ailing parent and moved right on to business as usual. Or we may simply ignore a greeting from a neighbor as we are running to catch the train to work. These are every day “Me-Me” situations that we all feel. And some of these are just a part of being alive and recognizing that we do have limited bandwidth. What is important is for us to be aware of this and to gauge whether this is merely a slip, or whether there is a risk of this becoming a habit.

Moving deliberately into a “Me-You” mode, unsurprisingly, has been proven to also carry benefits for the sender. Treating others as individuals in their own right and tuning into their needs allows us to forge alliances that make us feel more alive, motivated and ultimately more successful.  And it is not about how many people we know, but about how connected we feel. Having only one best buddy in the workplace, according to Gallup research, makes us seven times more engaged at work. Moving from “Me-Me” to “Me-You” is where we create the “We”, the sina qua non for success, both internally and externally.

[1] name and context altered to ensure confidentiality