Archive for July, 2007

Seek to Understand

Generally speaking, I think that i possess pretty good interpersonal skills. It is something that i have worked on for many years now. For example, back at the beginning of high school i realized that i was not social enough. I worked on this throughout high school and now, i feel like i have gotten better. Although social things still don’t come as first nature to me, I’m happy with the progress that i have made. About a week ago, i realized i have another big gap in my personal skills. I realized that i need to be a much better listener. This kinda came as a surprise to me since one hears advice about listening all the time: “Make sure you stop to listen”, “let the other person speak”, “Be an active listener”,… However, like most things in life, you need to get hit over the head with something before you really understand the importance of all those sayings.

For me personally, I realized that when i disagree with what someone is saying, rather than listening, acknowledging, digesting and responding i basically just talk at the problem. I hear what someone said, disagree, and then state my viewpoint even if it doesn’t really address the concern that the other person has. This is a pretty selfish way to engage in conversation. My mistake is that i always think my argument is right (who doesn’t?) and just stating my infallible opinion will surely sway the other. In an disagreement, it matters less whose argument is right and more that the two people see common ground and mutual understanding.

I now realize that what i should be doing is applying another modicum of truth: “Seek to Understand.” I recently read this and it really resonated with me. I am not doing a good enough job of understanding not just “what” someone is saying but “why”. The why piece is critical and when engaged in a discussion of any type one must understand it.

Hopefully, now that i have recognized the issue, I will be able to slow course correct my bad listening habits. After all, how can i continue to learn if i can’t listen?

A Sign of Team Dysfunction

I’m right in the middle of reading Peopleware (which is awesome btw). It has me in a mindset of thinking about teams. Recently, i have been thinking about signs that point to team function or dysfunction. Of course making a comprehensive list is totally impossible, but the other day, i hit on one that i am pretty sure about.

I overhead someone refer to a member of their team by their job function rather than their name. The comment in and of itself was not negative. It was just a normal comment. At the time, i thought nothing of it, but later i thought to myself, why did he do that? Why refer to <name> by his function? As i thought about that, i realized that i had heard that kind of thing before.

Referring to people in the abstract is a surefire sign of divided team. think about it. if you had a good working relationship with someone, would you ever *not* call them by their name? Using the job function as a proxy for name points to two things. First, the two individuals probably do not have a personal working relationship. Second, and perhaps more seriously, using job function implies that the speaker sees all persons in that function the same. This, of course, is a travesty as strong teams are defined by the individual strengths of each member.