When your coach or mentor encourages you to be more imaginative, you probably think they mean imagining what could be. But as a leader, you may get more mileage by imagining what already was.
Here's a humorous ad from Ameriquest that you may have seen before…
When you hear a disturbing conversation (in a meeting, hallway, restaurant, etc), are you sure you know what it means to the participants?
If not, the most direct way to avoid distress is to ask questions to check out your understanding of what the parties mean. If you're what I might call impressionable, you may feel the need to ask questions even if you're pretty sure you know what the parties mean, just to be sure. These strategies can be tedious, but they work, and it's possible to carry them out with grace and charm.
Here's another one...
When you hear a disturbing conversation, do you know enough about the parties' relationship to understand what the conversation means? Their relationship may contain most of the meaning – just ask any married couple. Again, rather than jumping to conclusions, it might seem better to ask, and you can always do that.
But the thing about asking is that it's not always appropriate and, if overdone, can seem boorish. That's where your imagination can come to the rescue! Imagining what people might really mean keeps your mind open. If you get good at it, you may find (like I have) that your imagination often leaps to the truth – you may have an instinct you're not aware of.
At the very least, your imagination can give your mind something to do while confusing, surprising, or disturbing conversations and events reveal their true meaning. I use my imagination to buy time. I see a lot of things this way, and I credit my imagination for that. Do you credit yours?