Humans in Our Organizations

Empathy Organizational culture Respect


Key Point: Brandon Stanton, 31, has managed to get thousands of strangers in New York City to tell him their stories through non judgmental listening. I was fascinated watching his interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. Stanton is the creator of the hugely popular blog Humans of New York (HONY), which you’ve maybe heard of. The blog has 15 million plus DAILY followers!

According to the following ABC blog, this is Stanton’s approach:           

“Brandon Stanton, has simply walked up to people and asked them permission to photograph them. He also asks them their stories.

He’s used this approach to take photos of more than 10,000 strangers in the city and has also published a bestselling book, ‘Humans of New York.’

He says that the first question he asks them is ‘What is your greatest struggle right now?’

The replies are remarkably candid. People talk in detail about their struggles with money, health, relationships, gender and sexual identity.

Stanton says he believes that their honesty comes from being able to share with someone who doesn’t know their story and has no preconceived judgments.

‘You know, I think there’s something liberating about that,’ he said.

Stanton just returned from spending time in Europe and speaking first-hand with Syrian refugees. His first question to them was to ask them to recount the day they left Syria.

‘They would start speaking in Arabic, and they would stop, and then tears would start coming down their face,’ he said.”

In our organization we want people to be more intentional about personally connecting with each other and our customers. How can we effectively develop sustainable relationships if we know little about each other at best? Or at worst, don’t even care? If Stanton can get 10,000 strangers in NYC and Syrian refugees to share their stories then it seems to me that we can do that with people we work with. Like Stanton said in his interview with Roberts, “Most people don’t ever get asked these questions.” Why not? We are humans and we work together don’t we? We all have and more importantly ARE a meaningful story. We just need someone to non-judgmentally listen and care.

Character Moves: 

  1. Consider ways to get people to tell you their personal stories by asking and really listening to questions that matter. “What is your greatest struggle right now?” How else do we really get to know them? 
  2. Perhaps a team building activity is to have us complete a “humans of [insert your organization],” where we ask permission to take a picture and genuinely ask each of our teammates (humans), “What is your greatest struggle right now?” When have you been the lowest in your life?” (Interestingly, Stanton asked this last question to Good Morning America’s Roberts, who has publicly struggled with two bouts of life threatening cancer and parents dying. Yet her somewhat surprising response (even to her) was the recent death of her 18-year-old dog, an unconditionally, unwaveringly loving friend through all of her struggles. Interesting.
  3. Follow HONY. We may learn a lot.

Humans in The Triangle, 


One Millennial View: Stanton recognizes a main reason his question works with strangers is because they don’t have to, say, ever see him again (let alone interact with him on a daily basis). Incorporating it into the office is a nice thought, but honestly revealing “biggest struggles” between co-workers could realistically land everyone on a one way trip to Awkward City. Hate to red flag it, but imagine the potential information that simply can’t be shaken off during the next meeting. In case your organization isn’t ready to be that open, here’s an alternate idea… I recently read a Forbes article that could provide a happy medium. The article examined qualities/practices in “irresistible” people, (all Character Triangle values are mentioned in some fashion, btw) but one that struck me is they “ditch the small talk.” Get it? Highly successful people tend to ask meaningful questions in conversation with co-workers that could tap into such things as someone’s “biggest struggle,” instead of zombie elevator chatter about traffic or weather or whatever. Yeah, we’re humans in an office, but sometimes work can be the best “escape” from those “biggest struggles.” Depending on your environment, you can probably predetermine if it’s best to keep it that way. Use common sense, but start getting to know people better and find out for sure. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis