Jean and I are having a rare dinner together at a pleasant little restaurant. We're catching up, and she suggests a topic for Point Lookout: "If Only I had Known." I jump on it, excitedly describing a time when I said something I regretted later on, after I learned some tiny but critical facts. Jean listens patiently and with interest, and then explains, "Oh. Not that kind of if-only-I-had-known."
Oops. I listen up.
She continues. "I meant, say, listening. If only I had known how important listening is — and how to do it — my life would have been so different."
Now that I understand, I agree. I overcome a powerful urge to slap my forehead. She tells me several more of her own if-only-I-had-knowns. Here are three of mine.
- Listen generously
- Listening to others is how we learn what they have in mind. People don't always communicate well or openly, but even if they don't, what they say (and don't say) holds important clues.
- Interrupting, finishing sentences, or hurrying others along, all get in the way of listening generously. If you're talking, you probably aren't listening.
- Let others have all the time and space they could possibly use. Encourage them. Let them know along the way, possibly with body language, that you understand. If you get confused, let them know that, too. This is what I did not do with Jean that night.
- Let people know what's happening
- Take responsibility for giving people the information they need about what's happening for you. Make unreasonable efforts to get your message across.
- If I'm upset with someone, or if I have important information, I'll do best if I let people know what's going on.
- Waiting for others to ask does work sometimes, but more often, people are two frazzled by the squeaking wheels in their lives to pay much attention to the wheels that don't squeak. And scoring someone with "negative points" for not listening, or for failing to ask the right question, might put you ahead in your own mental "tournament," but those points don't count for much out here in Reality.
- Take risks
- Learning The score you keep
inside your head
isn't worth much
out here in Realityentails doing things you've never done before. To get good at something, you have to be willing do it badly at first.
- Be easy on yourself — allow as much time as it takes to learn something new, accepting that until you learn it, you won't be very good at it. If what you're trying to do is inherently dangerous, practice first on something similar but less dangerous.
- Remember that most failures are non-fatal. If they were, I wouldn't have been here to write this, and you wouldn't be here to read it.
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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of our immediate surroundings. If you do — if you make your space uniquely yours — you'll
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.