I swatted unsuccessfully at a fly in my house. Two days later, the fly was still following me around like a pet. In a few more days he would be dead on the windowsill, so I tried to lead him to the door, which, of course, did not work.
The fly reminded me of me as a corporate employee:
- I got swatted a couple of times for stupid stuff.
- Afterwards, I pretended to be a friend of management (while bad-mouthing them behind their backs).
- Unable to forget the swats, I resisted their efforts to help me (which were legitimate).
- Eventually, I would end up in the “corporate graveyard.”
We so often resist those who offer us insight: bosses, exes, family, friends, authority figures, teachers, co-workers, etc., while flitting around with frantic, clueless self-preservation efforts.
Craving significance is a huge part of our human condition.
When we understand how our work matters, everything changes. We have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. We have a reason to overcome obstacles. We have a reason to keep going when pain is unbearable.
One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is to acknowledge the difference we make. Great managers do this. Good people do this.
“If it breathes, it needs encouragement.” -Charlie Chaplain
Some of the biggest falls I have taken in my life have been associated with ignoring the following important facts:
- What I think people think about me and what people actually think about me are generally two different things.
- What people say to me is not usually what people say about me (especially when I am their boss, family member, or competitor).
- Who I think really agrees with me and who really agrees with me are far from the same.
To avoid a rude slap in the face from reality, I must…
- find my security from within vs. from without
- remember that we humans, in order to avoid conflict, often say and do what is expedient vs. what is completely honest
- work daily on an inner life (based on awareness vs. illusion)
- solicit, accept, and reward honest feedback from peers, employees, and family
Shannon told me she was a very accommodating person, always wanting to help: to get along with everyone. It came as a great surprise that her husband Bryan thought she was the b-word. “How could he think that?” she asked. “I always tried to go along with whatever he wanted.” Unfortunately, Bryan’s communication preferences included:
- an aversion to manipulation (which he felt Shannon was doing when she said, “Whatever you want.” instead of stating what she wanted.)
- a dislike for people who were always trying to please or avoid confrontation
- appreciation for very direct communication with no beating around the bush
Shannon had no idea that the communication strategies she was using to make peace were exactly what was driving Bryan away from her. She was dealing with Bryan the way she wanted to be dealt with, not the way he wanted to be dealt with! Two completely different things.
Jason is a very charming person with the best financial results in his region. Even though he is well liked, he has never been promoted. He complained to me that office politics have limited his opportunities and accused his bosses of being jerks who don’t communicate well.
In reality, Jason’s bosses have considered Jason for promotion but decided he…
- was argumentative with leadership and had loyalty issues
- was too concerned about being liked by his team and wouldn’t communicate the importance of accountability
- would side with the employee instead of leadership when it came to profitability
Jason’s boss is “task-focused” in his communications. He appreciated Jason’s “people-focused” communications, but needed Jason to be equally focused on results even when it caused temporary discomfort for his employees. Without that, he feared Jason would never communicate strongly enough to push people to their highest level of competency.
If Jason would have understood the personality-driven differences in communication without condemning them, he could have gotten his promotion much earlier.
Ever wonder why some people don’t get it, why they get angry about something inconsequential, or why they don’t remember what you told them?
It may because they have some very effective filtering devises in use!
One such filter is the filter of expectation.
Several years ago I almost walked off my job when a boss asked me to buy balloons for a promotion. It wasn’t the balloons, it was what he didn’t say. I was expecting a little thanks for being a workhorse on the last promotion!
If he had “cleared the air first” there would have been no problem.
Dealing first with…
- unresolved conflicts
- over due thanks
- undelivered promises
…will remove our filter so we can hear you.
Expectations are always a factor in effective communication.
With upper management of a company for whom I had just delivered months of field-training, I explained that many of their supervisors and foreman did not particularly trust nor like them. One man answered, “You are mistaken. My guys love me.”
The exchange reminded me how easily we believe convenient “truths.”
- Humans generally pretend when they think they must in order to avoid unpleasant consequences
- What others say to our face is often much different than what they say behind our backs
- If someone is not fully engaged, at best, they think you are a necessary evil
(If you doubt any of this, call up memories of how you have “faked it” with parents, former bosses, etc.
Blinders OFF: First step to success.
Simon Sinek’s new book, Leaders Eat Last, does a good job of pointing out what makes leadership a dream rather than a nightmare.
Similar to Sinek, I’ve always said…
The really sad thing is that, as parents, as associates, as lovers, and as bosses, we forget this simple formula. Our children, our associates, our partners, and our employees are always looking for evidence that we really see them. When they don’t detect that evidence, they quit listening to our lectures, they shut down, they play the game, they leave, or something worse.
The best thing we can ever do for ourselves and for the people in our lives is to get our ego out of it long enough to do these three things, and be someone worth following.
When my boss used to put pressure on me for profits, I would frequently rebel and say, “Which do you want; low operational costs or good customer service?” The answer was always, “Both,” which seemed so unfair!
I wasted my time arguing with the facts and complaining about this reality and completely missed the point:
I always had the capability to deliver what life required, but I wasted the critical energy necessary on my own resistance.
The same thing happened to me in…
- Yoga class
- financial challenges
- relationship issues
I now know that the crucial ingredient to success in any arena is first to say,
- “Let’s get started”
- “I’ll give it my all”
Like yeast in dough, passionate willingness changes things.
Years ago, while attending a corporate conference in Mexico, I approached the chief operating officer of our company and asked if he was having a good time. He responded,
“Pam, when you are running your restaurant, are you concerned about how productive your employees are being?”
“Of course I am,” I answered.
“Well, that’s what it’s like for me here. You guys are all “on the clock” and I am constantly thinking about the return on investment.”
I thought of that conversation while walking up the stairs of an office building yesterday.
I am on the Universe’s “clock,” pretty sure the Universe doesn’t waste human resources, so… if I’m here today…
- There must be a good reason, and
- I have the power to make it a good investment
Ask for their wishlist. Seriously.
Like this: “I’ve been thinking about how I can make your life easier and be a better partner (associate, employee, etc.), so I wanted to know how I could improve. If you could change anything about my performance what would you change?” (Exception: If your boss has already told you, just do it and update them.)
Had one of my associates asked this, I would have passed out from joy and surprise!
Because no one likes drama, even the most confrontational boss is probably not telling you exactly what they are thinking. They may avoid you or blow-up suddenly unless…you initiate the difficult conversation. Forget about your performance review. Just get real.
And don’t be afraid to ask. They are thinking about it anyway.