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  • Writer's pictureTracey Camilleri

Illuminators and Diminishers


New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks’ book, How to Know a Person was recommended to Tracey Camilleri.  She was particularly struck by Brooks’ very simple observation that people are either Illuminators (“offering the kind of attention that can change people”) or Diminishers (those whose egotism, anxiety or simple lack of curiosity leads them not really to see you). 


New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks’ book, How to Know a Person was recommended to me (Barley Birney, thank you). 


I liked much of it but was particularly struck by Brooks’ very simple observation that people are either Illuminators (“offering the kind of attention that can change people”) or Diminishers (think back to the last meeting where no one asked you for your input – or the long dinner where your neighbour didn’t ask you a single question.  You were in the company of Diminishers; those whose egotism, anxiety or simple lack of curiosity leads them not really to see you). 


The good news is that illumination is a craft not a gift and you can get better at it.  Listen like a host – don’t spend time planning what you’re going to say while the other is speaking (a conversation is not a presentation!), ask specific questions, follow up your questions with more, don’t be tempted to ‘top’ the story with something better, find disagreement interesting not irritating, be at your ease, give them your full attention, encourage your partner to talk about themselves…all perhaps obvious strategies but, sadly, rare on the ground.


We don’t teach conversational skills at school or at work, we just assume that the capacity for these small, concrete social actions develops naturally through one’s life. The evidence would suggest otherwise.  As Brooks says, “Human beings need recognition as much as they need food and water”.  At TH, we are experimenting with our internal meetings in order to see each other better as our team grows - and endeavouring of course to be illuminators in all our interactions with our clients.


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