For almost a week, I have been traveling through Washington DC, Maryland and Michigan, and staying as a guest at the homes of my cousin, some good friends and my sister. During that time, I have been reflecting on how to be a good guest and how that might apply to some of my other relationships and interactions, especially commercial ones.
Learn from a different way of living
I’m a naturally curious person, and I’ve found it fascinating to see the similarities and differences in how people live on my travels. Here are some quick bullets:
- Pets and babies- my wife and I don’t have any pets or babies, but my hosts have all had pets and one had a baby. They take a lot of work, and command a lot of attention when they are around. However, on balance, they really bring a lot of joy and bring out the best in everyone whose around
- Politics- always comes up. I don’t agree with all of my hosts all the time, but because we are good friends, I respect where they’re coming from, and I can learn a lot from the way they view the world. Being a guest with friends who like you is a good time to practice well respectful disagreement and earnestly learning from a different perspective
- Food- people have different relationships with food. You can learn a lot from your hosts about ways to manage when and what to eat. Also- being a guest and being a host are both great excuses to indulge a little bit together and enjoy more unhealthy foods than you would otherwise eat. Sharing meals with good friends is one of life’s great pleasures.
- Entertainment- My cousin is a little…nerdy. Staying with him is a fascinating window into the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, Fantasy novels, video games and science. Even though I don’t love these things enough to seek them out at home, I love peering into this world.
Being a good guest
I am pretty laid back and I *think* that makes me a pretty good guest off the bat. However, I do strive to be a good guest in a number of ways:
- Help out- strip the bed and put the sheets in the washer. Take a turn at the grill for dinner. Baby sit for 20 minutes to free up a mother’s time. Reach high up things if you are tall (I am). Helping out to me is a pleasure and goes a small way to offset some of the inconvenience of your being around.
- Have an opinion but don’t be pushy- on one hand, it is annoying if a guest doesn’t care at all what you do when they are there. That creates more pressure on the host to come up with something to entertain you and feed you. On the other hand, the guest should be flexible and willing to enjoy a range of different activities and food.
- Quality time vs. being a burden- One should balance spending a good amount of time catching up with the host with not being in their hair when they need to get stuff done, whether at work or their daily chores at home. This is a delicate art that will vary by your host.
How this applies to other relationships and interactions
As an outside consultant, I’m often a ‘guest’ of sorts into my clients’ businesses and organizations. This means I have to find where I add value while respecting the way things are done at the clients’ company. It can be a great learning experience for me, and I have to strive to make sure the client enjoys it too.
I can learn from their points of view, while expressing my own when I think it will be valuable. I should feel free to disagree, but to always do so respectfully.
I should strive to be involved and take my clients’ time only to the extent that it is helpful to them.
Ultimately, we are people trying to be happy in this world and I should strive to connect with my clients as people and create the conditions where we both enjoy our time together for the time we spend working on our projects.