What’s in the Box?

We have four people in our house who will order something on Amazon or through some other online source from time to time. So, you never know when a box or package may show up on the porch. When you see a box on the porch and you’re not the one who ordered something, the response is almost always, “Ooh, what’s in the box?” You get really curios really fast.

Curiosity is defined as “A strong desire to know or learn something.” It is the driving force behind innovation and creativity. Some of the smartest and most influential people have had these things to say about curiosity.

“I have no special talent, I’m only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Albert Einstein

“The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size.” Albert Einstein

“Creativity is Intelligence having fun.” Albert Einstein – Curiosity is the fuel of creativity

“Curiosity is the engine of achievement.” Sir Ken Robinson

“The most important thing a teacher can do for students is to keep their curiosity alive,” Ken Robinson. [see his TED talk on the subject. It’s the most watched TED talk of all time]

“The future belongs to the curious, the ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it, and turn it inside out.” Unkown

If all this is true, I wonder why more of us aren’t more curious.

Semper Gumby

Several years ago I worked with a team that adopted the slogan “Semper Gumby.” Borrowing the Latin word “Semper” from the U.S. Marine’s motto meaning “Always,” we added “Gumby” to fill out the meaning “Always Flexible.” The idea first came up as a joke after a client had asked for yet another change in the program of services this team was offering. We later came to realize that the nimble flexibility the team provided this client was precisely why they did business with them. They saw flexibility as a differentiating strength.

Making it Personal

The first year we lived in China, one of the veterans of overseas living said to me, “to be successful living in Asia, you have to be willing to live with ambiguity.” He was right. I learned that the more of my western expectations I was able to let go, the more I enjoyed the experience of living there and the more I learned. Put another way, the more flexible I was, the more I was able to grow. We saw some people who came to live and serve who lacked flexibility. Their brittleness quickly became brokenness.

Ambiguity and Flexibility are similar in meaning. Ambiguity means, “the quality of being open to more than one interpretation, inexactness. Flexibility means, “capable of bending easily without breaking; ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances.”

Microsoft developed a list of education competencies, one of them is “Dealing with Ambiguity.” They define that as: “Can effectively cope with change; can shift gears comfortably; can decide and act without having the total picture; can comfortably handle risk and uncertainty.”

If you’re familiar with the “True Colors” personality types, the above definition sounds like an Orange through and through. Our youngest son is an Orange. Ambiguity is his friend. He just returned from a three week trip to Europe with two of his high school buddies. They planned the trip almost as they went. He loved it.

Only 27% of the global population are Orange. Well over half of us have a personality type that prefers a more steady, measured approach to life. We don’t necessarily welcome change as a friend. On the other hand, most of us would acknowledge there are things we would like to get better at. We would like to grow. There is a well-known saying, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying” that has a lot of truth to it. Jack Welch put it this way, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

What Can We Do?

When you get up in the morning, or when you’re about to do something strenuous, what do you do? You stretch. Stretching loosens your muscles so you can use them without damaging them because they become more flexible.

The same thing is true with our minds. We can stretch them to become more flexible which will allow for growth. One simple stretch exercise I’ve done with people involves a mug. I pick up a white mug that has a logo on one side. I show it to the person or group across from me and ask them to describe it. From their point of view it’s a white mug with a handle on the left. When they’re done describing it, I disagree with them and describe the mug from my perspective. I describe the logo and the fact that the handle is on the right. You get the idea. We’re both right, it’s a matter of point of view. To expand on this idea, try using your imagination to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” Imagine what it must be like to be (fill in the blank).

Stretching means getting out of our comfort zones. If you’re an analytical type, read some poetry. If you’re poetic, do some math!

In his book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, John C. Maxwell writes about “The Law of the Rubber Band – Growth stops when you lose the tension between where you are and where you could be.”

Let’s stretch!

TBH

To Be Honest (TBH), …, I’m not gonna lie, …, To tell you the truth, …, Honestly, …, It’s interesting how many phrases we use in every-day conversation to emphasize the truthfulness of what we’re saying. Does it sometimes make you wonder whether everything else the person says, without using one of those phrases, is true? If I say, “I’m not gonna lie,” does it mean I’ve lied before? How many times? It might just be me, but it seems like this speech pattern is becoming more popular. What does that mean about the status of truthfulness in our society?

Bobble Heads

Several years ago, I was asked by one of the division presidents to attend a president’s meeting with the CEO in his stead. All attendees were senior leaders of the different divisions of the company. It was fascinating to watch. Whenever the CEO said something, every head in the room bobbed up and down in agreement . . . except one. This guy not only didn’t “bobble head” he often shook his head and at times said, “No, that’s not a good idea.”

The first time he said that I thought everyone else in the room would get whiplash, their heads whipped around so fast to see who had dared to disagree. The tension in the room was thick. The CEO seemed a bit taken aback at first, probably because he wasn’t used to that. But, then he amazed everyone when he said, “Why do you say that?” The conversation after that was lively and productive.

In the weeks and months following that meeting, I noticed that the CEO, who was nobody’s fool, kept the naysayer close to him. Why? I believe he appreciated someone who would be honest about their view of things. In short, he trusted the honest one.

Trust

How important is trust in a relationship, any relationship? Maybe you would agree that it’s hard to imagine a relationship at all without some level of trust. Without trust, energy bleeds off an organization because it is wasted on second guessing and one upping. That wasted energy depletes productivity and synergy. On the other hand, when you have a high level of trust in an organization, there is a multiplication of productivity and synergy. Instead of the energy wasters you have freedom and ingenuity.

Honesty builds trust. Dishonesty destroys it. Just like with anything, building takes much longer than destroying. Have you every watched a video showing the demolition of a huge building in one blast? That’s what dishonesty does to trust. Three, two, one, it’s gone!

Honesty and Integrity

You will often hear people mention honesty and Integrity together, especially when talking about their personal or even organizational values. “I (we) value honesty and integrity.” I believe that’s telling, especially when you consider the second definition of “Integrity.” Integrity means

  1. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
  2. The state of being whole and undivided.

A sentence using the second definition might be, “The earthquake compromised the structural integrity of the building.” Said another way, we can make the point more directly, “The dishonesty compromised the structural integrity of the team.”

The word “Honest” means: “free of deceit and untruthfulness; sincere.” People who are honest are genuine about what they think and how they feel. There is no pretense. There are no hidden agendas or ulterior motives. They say what they mean, and they mean what they say. We may not like what they say but we know it’s the truth. That’s what builds trust. And, TBH, we need a lot more of that.

Not Just Another Lady

Several years ago I had an epiphany at Walmart. It was a Monday evening after dark. It was rainy so I had just dropped my wife off at the Walmart front door. I was about to pull away to park the car, but I waited for a woman who had just stepped from the parking lot in front of my car on her way into the store. I recognized her.

The day before, at church, she and her husband had been the focus of a celebration. They had just retired from an organization where they had spent their career living among an indigenous people group whose language had never before been learned by outsiders and had no written form. They had learned the language, reduced it to writing and taught the people to read it. Then they had translated the entire New Testament of the Bible into that language so the people could read it. It was an incredible lifetime achievement which I deeply admired.

The epiphany came when it occurred to me that to everyone else in that store, she would be just another lady in the Walmart checkout line.

That moment changed me in some way. It showed me there is no such thing as “just another lady in the Walmart checkout line.” Everyone has a story. Every story is unique. Just because I don’t know a person’s story doesn’t mean they don’t have one or that it’s not important. It is to them. “Treating others as important people” is how James C. Hunter defines “Respectfulness.”

Word Nerd Alert

The online dictionary defines respect in these two ways:

  1. A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
  2. Due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others

It comes from two Latin words that mean “to look back.” I’m not sure if that means to look back at someone who is looking at you, which is a western form of respect. “Look me in the eye when you speak to me.” Many eastern cultures consider that disrespectful. Or, does “look back” mean a double take, like when you glance at something and it catches your eye so you look again? Something worth giving your attention. I can see either meaning as part of Respectfulness.

What’s The Point?

I was having lunch with two colleagues some time ago when my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number and normally I wouldn’t answer a call I didn’t recognize, especially when I’m in the middle of something. But, my colleagues happened to be saying something to each other at that moment so I answered the phone. The voice on the other end identified herself and asked if I had a moment to talk to the CEO. I took the call. That one was pretty easy.

I like almonds. There is a gas station near my workplace that sometimes has a sale on almonds, two bags for $6. I usually spring for the almonds when they’re on sale there. The question is, how do I treat the Indian gentleman who usually works behind the counter when I pay for my almonds? Do I treat him like I treat the CEO? His story is as important to him as mine is to me and the CEO’s is to him. Respectfulness dictates that I treat him as an important person. That gas station is usually busy so I respect his time by not trying to take too much of it. But, I do smile and clearly say, “Thank you” and I look for anything else I can do to be respectful.

A Matter of Policy and More

Most companies have written into their policies that employees will treat each other with “dignity and respect.” I’ve seen collective bargaining agreements that have similar language. Why is that? Someone has said that contrast is the mother of clarity. So, what is dis-respect? Disrespect is to treat someone as though they were not important, to disregard them or to mistreat them. Clearly no relationships, work or otherwise, would survive long in that kind of environment. Organizations thrive when people treat each other with respect.

People need to know that they matter. They want to know they matter on a personal level and that their work matters. Showing respectfulness sends the clear message that both are true. The simple phrase, “Thank you,” for example, signals to the other person that what they did, large or small,  mattered to you.  That means they mattered.

Try this. Next time you go through a drive through, make eye contact with the person who hands you your order, smile, and clearly say, “Thank you.” Watch their face. Write to me and tell me what happened. If you can do that with a likely stranger, how about your co-worker or family member?

Where Credit Is Due

“Hey Mom, Why is the sky blue?” “Dad, Where did I come from?” “Hey Mom, What are clouds made of?” If you’ve ever spent much time around children, you’ve heard all the questions. In fact, one study said that children ask 73 questions per day on average. I remember one drive into the city with our two youngest, Suzi (my wife), and grandma and grandpa in the car. Our youngest son, Jordan, hit the daily average in the first hour on that trip!

Young children are absorbing the world around them for the first time. They’re learning. They ask questions because they don’t know and they want to. It’s refreshing (when it hasn’t reached the point of being annoying), to hear the purity of their asking. Kids are real. There’s no pretense, no arrogance. They just ask because they want to learn. In his book on Leadership, James C. Hunter uses those terms to define “Humility.” He says humility is “being authentic, without pretense or arrogance.”

Word Nerd Alert

As I like to say, “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” So, let’s look at each of those three words used by Hunter. The online dictionary says:

Authentic

  • not false or imitation : real, actual
  • true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character

Pretense

  • a false reason or explanation that is used to hide the real purpose of something
  • an act or appearance that looks real but is false
  • a claim of having a particular quality, ability, condition, etc.
  • a claim made or implied; especially one not supported by fact
  • professed rather than real intention or purpose

Arrogance

  • an insulting way of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people
  • an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions

The online dictionary defines Humility as: “a modest or low view of one’s own importance, humbleness.”

One Chinese character for humility includes characters for walking, for connecting and for a small child.

C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

What’s the Point?

Harry S. Truman is credited with saying “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

If we combine what C.S. Lewis and Harry S. Truman said, we get to how I think about humility. Humility is not about putting yourself down or downplaying your strengths and abilities. It’s about using your strengths and abilities to lift others up. Especially as a leader, it’s making sure that you absorb blame when things go wrong and give credit when they go right.

When you hear a star basketball player interviewed, which kind of comments draw you to them? Are they the comments from the player who says, “Yeah, I really had to step up my game and carry my team to get the win?” Or are they from the player who says, “I’m really proud of how we were able to pull together and get this win. It’s an honor to be a part of this team?” Of course, it’s the second. We appreciate the humility.

No one succeeds alone. Those who think they do usually do end up alone. Arrogance and Pretense push people away. We are social creatures, designed to live and thrive in community. Every successful person has had teachers and mentors and support people along the way who are as much responsible for their success as they are.

Childlike

It’s interesting how we use the term “childish” to mean selfish and demanding, someone who might throw a temper tantrum if they don’t get their own way. On the other hand, we use the term “childlike” more positively. It refers to people who have not lost their sense of wonder, who ask questions, who are trusting and genuine, people who rely on others for help and don’t mind. In other words, humble.

The greatest leaders exhibit childlike humility. How can you use your strengths and abilities to lift up the people around you? Who around you now or in the past has been partially responsible for your success? Why not start exhibiting humility by thanking them?

I See You

I got a new shirt several months ago. One morning while I was getting ready for the day, I put on my new shirt. My daughter was getting ready for school at the same time. She came out of her bathroom and saw me in my new shirt for the first time. Apparently she liked it because she said, “New shirt? Ooh, I see you, Dad!” I don’t remember hearing that expression too many times before, but it made me feel good and I’ve thought about it since.

Am I Invisible?

I’ve mentioned before that we lived in China for a couple years . . . along with 1.3 billion other people! That’s a lot of people. And, we saw a lot of mom’s carrying babies during that time. My wife loves children (and elderly people, we saw a lot of them, too). One of the first Chinese phrases she wanted to learn was how to say “What a cute baby!” She said that to as many moms as she could. At first she said it just because it was true. But, when she noticed the reaction of the moms, she had another reason to make that comment. Every time she said that to a mom, it was like the mom was amazed that this lady had noticed her child, and she seemed so appreciative.

Suzi (my wife) began to wonder if all those moms felt invisible in the huge throngs of people that were always present. When you looked out over a crowd there it was a homogeneous looking sea of black haired people pressed together. Calling out a mom by saying she had a cute baby seemed to make her feel like she wasn’t invisible, like she mattered. Suzi was on a mission to make sure moms knew they mattered. It was like she was saying, “I see you.”

Light ’em Up

A healthcare client of mine employed a hospitality customer service technique called the 10-5 rule. Ever heard of it? It says that if you are approaching a guest in the corridor or outside the business and they are 10 feet away from you, make eye contact and offer a warm smile to acknowledge the guest. If they come within 5 feet, a sincere greeting should accompany the smile.

Try that and watch what happens. I’ve seen, time and again, people approaching me who had on shall we say “resting business face” light up like a child watching the fireworks at Disney World when I greeted them with a simple “hello.” It’s amazing how a simple but sincere greeting can transform a person’s countenance.

What’s It All About?

These are examples of simple acts of kindness. A brief but powerful definition of Kindness is “giving attention, appreciation, and encouragement.”

Giving attention is simply saying, “I see you” to someone who may feel invisible. Notice the people around you. Take a moment to acknowledge them. Hold the door for someone. Smile and say, “hello.” Offer to help someone who is struggling.

Appreciation means “to enjoy the good qualities of someone or something.” It also means “a full understanding of a situation.” Either meaning works for kindness. It’s telling the Chinese mom her baby is cute. It’s saying, “What a delicious meal!” Or, “Good job. Your report was spot on.” It could be, “I realize what a difficult situation this must be for you.” It could even be as simple as, “Thank you.” Don’t you like to be appreciated?

I was recently talking with a client who mentioned what a good job one of his subordinates was doing. The person was three levels lower in their hierarchy. I ran into that person later the same day and told him what is boss had said. He was so grateful to hear that. He must have thanked me three or four times.

Encouragement means, “the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.” It also means, “persuasion to do or to continue something.” Finally, it means, “the act of trying to stimulate the development of an activity, state, or belief.” You can see how any of these uses of Encouragement would be an act of kindness for someone who needed hope or needed to press on or to believe in a better tomorrow.

So What?

There are a million reasons to be kind. Here are two. First, you could save a life. There are many stories about how an act of kindness saved someone. Check out this one for example. The lyrics to this song show how our words have the power to hurt or to Speak Life into someone. Our words and actions are powerful. Use them for good.

A second reason to be kind is that kindness is a boomerang. When you put it out there, it often finds its way back to you through someone else. This reason may sound a bit selfish but in reality, the boomerang effect of kindness often involves a multiplication effect as well. The kindness not only returns to you, but it also gets payed forward by the person to whom you showed it. So go ahead and be selfish.

We never know what the people around us at work, in the neighborhood, at the store, may be facing at any given time. Your one act or word of kindness could make all the difference in the world to them. Find someone and show them some kindness today!

Are We There Yet?

I know you’ve either heard it or you’ve said it (or both!). You’re on a long road trip, driving for hours, and inevitably out pops the question, “Are we there yet?” You can hear the whiny voice, can’t you? When I used to fly a lot for work I had a love-hate relationship with that map. You know the one. It has your origin and your destination with a line connecting them and a little symbol of an airplane showing you how far you’ve come on the trip and how far you still have to go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve checked that, especially on long flights, with the follow up question running through my mind, “How much longer?”

The obvious missing element in the above scenarios is patience. We get impatient with so many things,  traffic, in grocery store lines, in lines anywhere! But, we also get impatient with people, loved ones, co-workers, perfect strangers (and imperfect strangers!). Being impatient with situations is bad for us. It effects our blood pressure, heart rate, stomach, etc. Being impatient with people is also bad for us for the same reasons, but it’s bad for the other person as well. It can effect their body like effects ours. But it can also effect them mentally and emotionally to the point of inhibiting their growth.

Patience – Word Nerd Alert

So, what is patience? The English word comes from a Latin root that means “suffering.” One Greek word for “Patience” comes from two words, one meaning long and the other, temper, so it means taking a long time to get angry. Other words mean to bear a load for a long time or to endure hardship. One of my favorites is a Chinese expression. The characters for this “Patience” include one made up of the characters for “knife” and “heart” and one made up of characters for “and yet” and “small.” It seems to mean that patience is taking a knife to the heart and yet considering it a small thing. Wow!

Another, very simple definition of patience is “showing self control.” That seems appropriate when we consider some of phrases we use to express our impatience. “I lost my patience.” “I lost it.” “I went off.” Those expressions mean “I didn’t control myself.”

Patience is a Virtue

Whichever definition we choose, patience is good for everyone. That’s why the saying, “Patience is a virtue.” It keeps us calm which is healthier. But, and I would argue more important, it gives people room to grow. Patience allows people freedom to try things, experiment, make mistakes, fail, and ultimately succeed. Without it people become timid and fearful. With it they become creative and courageous.

Where does impatience come from? If you type that question into the Google search bar you’ll find some good articles on impatience from a psychological perspective. The depth of those articles is beyond my scope. I can say, though, that impatience comes largely from a belief that people and circumstances should align to my goals and timelines. When they don’t, I experience frustration which is akin to anger which is very similar to impatience.

How Do We Do It?

So, how do I become patient? It starts by remembering that the people around me are as interested in their goals and timelines as I am in mine. Are mine more important just because they’re mine? Hmmm, perhaps not. With that in mind, here are a couple things we can do to re-gain self control when we feel our patience running out:

  1. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.
  2. Identify the source of your frustration, what goal is being threatened or what timeline might not be met?
  3. Think about the actual worst that could happen in this situation.
  4. If we can’t change the situation without showing impatience then find a way to make the best of it. We might check emails on your phone if you’re in a long line, for example. Be creative.

Showing patience makes for healthier, more productive relationships at home, at work, anywhere. Think about the last time you showed impatience. How did that go? What might you have done differently? Now, plan for the next time a situation like that may come up. How can you show patience?

Happy Anniversary!


It was one year ago today that I launched this blog. My first post went up on Sunday, April 15, 2018 and was titled “Star Performance.” Since then I have posted weekly, publishing every Monday. Although it’s been exactly one year, this is actually the 59th post because I published a few mid-week thoughts in addition to the weekly posts.

This blog has been primarily about elements of Employee Engagement. A few months ago I added a page to the website called “Posts by Category.” The categories listed are:

  1. Engager Dynamics
  2. Habit Formation
  3. Listening
  4. Words

That last one, “words,” may sound a bit strange, but I call myself a word nerd because I enjoy diving into the definitions of terms as a way of better understanding what I or someone else is talking or writing about. A few of the mid-week posts have been about words that have made a powerful impact on my thinking.

Engager Dynamics

These posts are specifically about those things “bosses” do that cause their people to give their discretionary talent and energy to the work. They are identified by a single verb, like “Expect,” then the post expands on what it means to set expectations. I’ve organized these “dynamics” into those that Challenge and those that Connect with people.

Habit Formation

So much of what we do is out of habit. That includes many of the ways we interact with each other. These posts revisit each of the Engager Dynamics from the perspective of how to make them your habit. The first in this series introduces habit formation under the title “How Does a Klutz Become a Dancer?

Listening

Arguably one of the most important and most underutilized skills in the human interaction skill set, listening is the focus of the next series of posts. I call it “The Super Power You Didn’t Know You Have.” Super Power listening allows you to see the world through other people’s eyes. That’s so cool, and cool things happen in relationships when you can do that.

Words

I mentioned this series above but, to elaborate a bit, I posted a few “Word Nerd Alerts” by themselves. I’ve included in this category other posts that have word definitions as part of the content within that post. What can I say, I’m a nerd.

A Request

On the “Home” page of the blog website (www.engagerdynamics.com) I wrote,

“Welcome to Engager Dynamics.com! Thank you for visiting. We are having a conversation about what I call “Engager Dynamics. We are looking at Employee Engagement from a little different perspective.”

I would love for this to be a conversation, so I invite you to leave comments on any of the posts. Let me know if you agree, disagree, have additional thoughts, or suggestions on topics. I know we’re busy. If you don’t have time to leave a comment, would you let me know if you’ve read any of the other posts in a comment to this one? Thank you!

The Habits of Transformational Engagement Part 1

Several years ago I had the opportunity to step into an organization that had been under difficult leadership. All the people involved were good people but the employees felt disconnected from the leader. There was a lack of trust and all the corresponding baggage associated with that. The fact that this organization was overseas and that most of the employees were expats only exacerbated the situation. When the leader resigned I was asked to step in and try to “calm things down.” So . . . What now?

Employee Engagement

There is a lot of good discussion these days about it. Some are augmenting the idea by calling it “Transformational Engagement.” I’m part of this conversation and I love the concept of Transformational Engagement. Most of the dialog is about the benefits of Employee Engagement, what an Engaged Employee looks like, and/or the factors in an organization that contribute to or detract from Employee Engagement. This is very important to the conversation but it fails to zero in on the crucial factor . . . leaders. While some people naturally engage in their work because that’s the way they’re wired, in most cases the onus of engagement rests on the leaders. Leaders, managers, and supervisors need to be “Engagers,” people who engage others.

Habits

Studies have shown that as much as 45% of what we do each day is out of habit. So, I want to talk about the Habits of Transformational Engagement.

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

I like to say, “The beginning of Wisdom is the definition of terms.” So, before going any further, let’s define what we’re talking about. These definitions are taken from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Habit: An acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary
Transform: To change something completely and usually for the better
Engage: To induce to participate, to involve

My working definition of Transformational Engagement is: “Causing people to invest their best energy, creativity, and passion into improving the organization.”

When leaders engage people, transformation occurs at several levels. The leaders themselves are transformed, the people are transformed, the atmosphere of the organization is transformed, and the results are seen in the organization’s metrics. They improve, often dramatically.

The question is how do leaders engage people? What are the skills, I call them engager dynamics, required and can a leader learn them? There are several engager dynamics. Not only can leaders learn them, but they can become habits. In fact, they must become habits if the leader hopes to become an engager.

How?

Back to the question raised at the end of the first paragraph, “What now?” In that situation I did a written survey of all the employees (at the time there were between 50 and 60). I compiled the data from the survey and then met one-on-one with each employee. In those one-on-one meetings I shared the results of the survey and then asked questions to get candid anecdotal feedback on their thoughts about the organization and its direction. From what we learned together through that process we implemented some changes:

  • Weekly open informational meetings to keep staff informed of milestones
  • Solicitation and implementation of quality and process improvement ideas from staff
  • Compensation validation for one of the departments
  • I kept my door open during the work day.

You read that last point correctly. No one had said anything about it specifically during the survey process, and I did it because it’s the way I’m wired, but I received more positive feedback on my door being open than almost anything else that was changed. People appreciated access to leadership and they appreciated being heard. It wasn’t long before the atmosphere changed. People began to have fun at work and our outcomes improved. Staff and customers alike often commented on the transformation.

[Note: this post and next week’s are re-published from a Linkedin article I wrote a couple years ago. I broke the article into two parts for readability]

Listening with Your Heart

You May be too young to remember Sergeant Joe Friday. He’s a character from a 1950’s police drama called “Dragnet.” He was a dry personality who was attributed the famous line “just the facts, ma’am” Sergeant Friday wasn’t interested in any speculation and he certainly didn’t care about how the witness felt about whatever had happened; Just the facts. Facts are very important when we listen and I’ll write about that in a later post. They are certainly important when we’re doing “Evaluative (critical)” listening like we discussed in last week’s post. Good listening, however, also involves the ability to Empathize. Remember, it is the original “E” in the “H.E.A.R.” acronym.

Word Nerd Alert

There is some debate over the difference between “Sympathy” and “Empathy,” You know the word nerd in me has to look into the difference. Both words have the Greek word πάθος (pathos) as their root. πάθος means “suffering or deep feeling.” Sympathy is combined with the Greek word σύν (sun) meaning “with, together with” while Empathy is combined with ἐν (en) meaning “in, on, at, or by.”

Sympathy means to feel emotion with someone, to enter into their feelings. “I feel angry when you feel angry or sad when you’re sad.” Empathy means to be alongside the person as they are feeling and to understand their emotion. “I understand why you would be angry or sad in that situation.” I believe empathy is the better word because we want to remain objective as listeners while we fully listen to the other person.

The Challenge

I’ve said that our listening goal is to see the world through the other person’s eyes. That’s what I’ve called “Super-power Listening.” Hearing and understanding the other person’s emotions is not as easy as it sounds. We have our own emotions that auto respond to certain things. When we’re having a strong emotional response in a conversation, it’s very difficult to hear, let alone understand the other person’s feelings.

People often warn that you shouldn’t talk about Religion and Politics. Those happen to be two of my favorite topics. But, both topics are often strong emotional triggers and people know how hard it is to have a meaningful conversation when both parties are in contrasting emotional charge. What are some of the topics that emotionally trigger you? What gets you really excited or angry or sad? It may be a certain person at work or a family member. It could be a place that holds an emotionally charged memory or maybe a situation like being in a crowd or a closed-in space that gets you going. If you’re trying to have a conversation with any of these elements present, it will be difficult to listen with your heart.

Hush

Remember the “H” from “H.E.A.R.?” Hush is about more than keeping our mouth closed. It’s also about the ability to quiet things inside us like our emotions or prejudices (which also stir up emotions). It’s hard but you can do it.

Try keeping track of your daily encounters for a week. Jot down how you felt in every encounter. Name the emotions (Anger, Fear, Excitement, Confusion, etc.). Look through your list at the end of each day and try to decipher the triggers for each of those emotions. What caused you to feel that way in each encounter? This exercise will help you become more aware of your emotional responses. Being more aware will help you take control.

Try this. Think of a red balloon. OK, now think of a green tree. How did you do? Were you able to think of those things? You can decide what you want to think about. That’s part of self-control. Now that you’ve made yourself aware of emotional triggers and responses, you can tell them to “hush” when they interfere with your listening and you can tell yourself to pay attention to the other persons feelings. A word of caution; this also requires courage. The other person may be expressing things that are difficult for you to hear. If you can see from their point of view (super-power listening) by empathizing with them, you will make a growth opportunity out of what might otherwise have made you mad. Who knows, you might even build a better relationship with that person.

Emotions tell us so much more than words alone can convey. Develop the ability to listen to people’s emotions, to listen with your heart, and you will be an advanced listener, well on your way to super-power status.