We all see the world through our own lens of experience, culture, generational learning, peer and community influences. What would our leadership impact be if we could take a step back, a deep breath, and ask questions to learn about and from each other rather than setting out to control one another.
“Control one another” sounds sinister, like something we would never do or condone. Yet when we seek to have those around us conform to OUR ideas rather than share different perspectives, that’s exactly what happens. Creativity is stifled, real conversation is avoided, problems are not truly solved.
How do you shift this default thinking?
Lose the defensiveness – move into fascination rather than condemnation.
Instead of dismissing a different idea or possibility, get curious – ask questions to understand, even if (and especially if) you disagree with the initial thoughts you are hearing. This can be very challenging to achieve. Human tendency is to avoid discomfort, and not want to hear ideas contrary to those we may have already decided are wrong or irrelevant.
A person recently shared an opinion with me during a social gathering that a leader in their organization was not qualified, that this leader had been promoted because of a personal relationship and had “learned what she had because of him.” My automatic reaction was to disregard this comment that I found very offensive. I translated the comments to mean “a woman is not qualified for this role.” I knew the leader in question so rather than ask the person for more information, I distanced myself and internally condemned him for his thoughts.
In hindsight I missed an opportunity to learn more. I let myself off the hook since this was a social gathering and I was not “on the clock”, but the best leaders would ask for more information, asking for example:
- What qualifications did this person feel the leader in question was lacking?
- What characteristics would a qualified leader in that position likely possess?
- Who does this person believe would have been a better choice for the position? And why?
- Does this person feel a woman could do a good job in this role or even be given a chance?
- Was this person on the selection committee or privy to resumes, interviews, or background checks on the leader who was hired?
Asking for more information with questions such as above, may or may not change anyone’s mind about whether the right leader is in the job, in this instance. Taking a fascination approach, though, can help strengthen communication and engagement by allowing the unhappy person to be heard.
If the listener can remain in the mindset of curiosity rather than being triggered with upset or disagreement, the opportunity exists to understand a different perspective. Understanding is not the same thing as agreement. The listener can listen from a place of learning more and keeping an open mind but that does not mean automatically changing decisions or compromising values simply to avoid conflict.
Leaders who take the time to understand employees’ viewpoints can learn more about the culture of the organization. Observations can provide additional insights for deeper problems that may exist. For example, is the disgruntled person truly unhappy about who was hired, or are there underlying issues, like compensation, being overlooked for promotion, not feeling valued for their contributions, etc. Staying curious or in the fascination mindset can uncover more deeply rooted concerns.
Staying curious – holding to a fascination approach may lead to greater cohesion, teamwork, and employee retention in organizations. Research shows that happier, more engaged employees contribute to greater productivity and bottom-line results, profits, and more customer loyalty.
As a Leadership Coach and DEI Facilitator, I help my clients improve collaboration, connection, and engagement. Leaders can shape the culture and impact within their companies and organizations, and the greater community. Reach out to me for more information on bringing your team together for successful communication and facilitated safe conversations. KEllet@thegrowthcoach.com