Being told something is generally the consequence of someone else’s desire to bring it to your attention – that there’s a deadline looming that you need to meet, that you need to be aware that a particular activity is forbidden wherever you are, or that your choice of outfit might not be showing you in your best light. Sometimes the information is useful, sometimes it’s inadvertently amusing (I always enjoyed a friend’s office door that had a stern ‘No Tapdancing’ sign on it, in case anyone was about to break into the best Fred and Ginger routine); sometimes, however, it can have effects that we can only assume weren’t intended.
Mark Gould, writing at his Enlightened Tradition blog, provides a personal example to illustrate this point – and an explanation as to why a reminder might not have the intended effect:
I recall reading many years ago about a study which suggested that waiting staff in restaurants tended to break more crockery when they were reminded to take care than when there was no such reminder. As I once washed dishes and made coffee in a wine bar, this made sense to me. There is a lack of trust implicit in a reminder, which might make one doubt one’s abilities and therefore lead to more breakages. An alternative explanation might be that the reminder causes people to concentrate on the wrong thing — a broken plate, rather than a plate conveyed safely to its destination.”
As one of the things that this blog explores is the nature and impact of our relationships, both with each other and with more abstract entities (‘the organisation’, ‘the strategy’ and so on), I was surprised when I searched for one particular word, and found only five references. The word was empathy – the ability to understand the world from someone else’s point of view. (And empathy is about understanding, not pity or admiration: empathy is about comprehension, not comparison.)
Being inquisitive, I googled the usual quotation sources, and came up similarly short-handed. (If you have a great quote about empathy, please share them with us.) As the web isn’t the only source of wisdom, I tried a few books – and found that the Oxford Dictionary of 20th Century Quotations doesn’t list it in the index at all. Reminding myself that understanding is something that sometimes needs to unearthed, I kept digging. And was subsequently relieved – if only as a human being – to find that some of the most respected minds (and mouths) in business and management theory had actually something to say on the subject:
- The number one practical competency for success in life and work is empathy
- When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air. And after that vital need is met, you can then focus on influencing or problem solving. This need for psychological air impacts communication in every area of life
(Steven Covey) Continue reading
I never understood the whole ‘talk to the hand’ thing. I’ve learnt a lot of things by using my hands, but never by using them as a way of avoiding doing something more educational: listening. Even if you suspect you’re going to disagree with someone, your counter-argument is going to be stronger if you listen to theirs before you attempt to demolish it. Getting the response “Face? Bovvered?” is actually less annoying when the face belongs to someone whose ears were actually functioning in the preceding seconds. And let’s be honest here: if you want someone’s attention in the future, you’re more likely to get it if you give them yours in the meantime. As the Earl of Chesterfield once observed: “Many a man would rather you heard his story than granted his request.” Neither are the perfect response, but a cold shoulder is warmer than a deaf ear.
Yet how often do we offer a deaf ear even when what we claim to be doing is wanting to hear something? Consider this example from Clay Christensen, Harvard Business School professor:
Before I published The Innovator’s Dilemma, I got a call from Andrew Grove, then the chairman of Intel. He had read one of my early papers about disruptive technology, and he asked if I could talk to his direct reports and explain my research and what it implied for Intel. Excited, I flew to Silicon Valley and showed up at the appointed time, only to have Grove say, “Look, stuff has happened. We have only 10 minutes for you. Tell us what your model of disruption means for Intel.” I said that I couldn’t—that I needed a full 30 minutes to explain the model, because only with it as context would any comments about Intel make sense. Ten minutes into my explanation, Grove interrupted: “Look, I’ve got your model. Just tell us what it means for Intel.”
Like so many words that start with ‘f’ (fairness or federalism, for example), faith can be a topic that leaves some of us slightly twitchy. As a word, its roots are actually secular: it derives from the Latin word for trust, and the religious sense was a 14th century acquisition. But for all the trouble humanity has wrought upon itself around faith in a theological sense, is it worth asking if we have successfully mastered the idea of faith in the broader, earthly sense?
I came across an old adage – “Fear can keep us up all night long, but faith makes one fine pillow” – that left me wondering if we don’t put too much emphasis on what we believe about the world around us, rather than on being mindful or receptive to the faith that others have in us? Most of us appreciate the merits of a fine pillow: whether we hold to a religion or live as atheists or agnostics, our lives are still touched by sorrow, frustration, setbacks or doubt, and a little pampering never goes amiss. In terms of the comfort or sense of strength that it can bring, faith can definitely be its own reward. But I’m thinking about the idea of faith in a less … well, self-centred way: the benefits we can bring about by showing faith in others.
Gratitude is due to Brains on Fire as a company, as they inspired us to launch this blog. (And as they’re all about listening, get Spike to write more often: a little spikiness livens up a dish.) They’ve now given us a book - one that risks being misinterpreted, and which I suspect plays less well in the UK than it does on its home turf. There’s a lot of talk within its covers – and even on them – about passion, love, powerfulness and what some will consider other qualities that qualify as ‘the usual suspects’. The book actually explicitly mentions cheerleaders more than once, and some people this side of the Atlantic may choke a little on their sherry reading it. (They would have better objections, but I’ll come back to them.)
The misinterpretation that I fear with this book is that – despite the clear statements it contains to the contrary – some will reject it, before or after reading it, as being mostly about social media. (It isn’t: it goes out of its way to – quite rightly – remind its readers that 90% of the world’s interaction still happens offline, although I’d say that percentage is dropping.) It’s headlining of the idea of ‘movements’ also left me wondering if its pitch would work as effectively in the UK as in the US: having now read the book, I felt it was mostly actually about forging closer and more loyal customer relationships and about – to use the word Ford’s Head of Social Media uses in a back cover blurb – ‘humanization’.
In the previous episode in this series, I related the experience of completing the MBTI questionnaire and receiving facilitated feedback. But if MBTI is mostly about the individual, giving feedback on relationships with others more by inference and implication, FIRO-B is explicitly about the individual, others and the relationship(s) between the two. This is an instrument that looks at the ways we wish to behave towards others and others to behave towards us, and illuminates that these may be very different even in a single dimension: FIRO-B can illuminate many things, not least that “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” may be a familiar expression but it can also be highly inaccurate in describing our behavioural patterns.
There’s been quite a lively debate at Business Week, where two contributors – and a long list of commenters – indulged in some weighty mutual executive briefcasing (handbagging just didn’t sound right) in response to the question: “Multi-dimensional organisational design (Matrix) is the best way to restructure a business. Pro or con?”
In the Pro corner, Jay Galbraith argues for the value, inherent merit and – in today’s trading environment – the inevitability of the victory of a collaborative approach over a command and control variety. In the Con corner, Guido Quelle sees matrix organisations as painfully slow, lacking clarity and clear lines of responsibility. Verbal bruisings have been administered and received on both sides but there’s been no knock-out punch: anyone hoping to see the late, grand old man, Peter Drucker holding the limp wrist of one argument aloft and counting to ten would be disappointed.
The attrition rate, at just one business hopeful a week, is just another example of the differences between The Apprentice and real life, but still it trundles on, dragging its self-belief behind it in its black wheeled suitcase. We now have just the dozen disciples gathered at the table, but sadly the last supper is still many weeks ahead of us. And for something presented as a business spin on the reality tv model, reality remains as elusive as ever.
Although we read incessantly that social networks and anytime media are bringing sharing to the top of the agenda and people closer together, our experience doesn’t always chime in tune with the assertion. So it was interesting that three people here at ASK independently stumbled upon an article by Alexander Fliaster at People Management last week, and were interested enough to present each other printouts of it as ‘something I wondered if you’d seen’. (And yes, we do know we could email each other: I think we hit the print button and used some shoe leather as we were genuinely interested rather than wanting to pay it the digital passing glance of a ‘Like’ button or its ilk– an aspect of social media that Evgeny Morozov commented on in The Net Delusion, reviewed here recently.)
It probably also says a lot that we all recognised each other as people who would – as individuals – be particularly interested in the article, and in Fliaster’s comments. We’re not a project team, and there’s no pressing current project that is focused primarily on creativity: but we do have a culture that means we chat openly and widely, and understand what each other might be particularly interested in (or are curious about what a particular person’s reaction to something might be).
Our reaction to the article proved, in one way, part of its author’s point that:
The real engine of creativity and organisational success is to be found in internal networks of friendship and collaboration.”
As an organisation that could hardly get away with believing that learning is something that stops when you leave school or university, ASK is always proud and happy to support Adult Learners Week (as we did last year) – and to have fun while we’re about it. Recognising that everyone is always interested in making lots of dough, Elaine valiantly stepped up to the mark this morning and led a group of us into the kitchen to make lots of it!
When we say ‘making dough’, we do of course mean it absolutely literally. We might watch it through interlaced fingers, but ASK Towers is not The Apprentice. We mean dough as in bread – in the sense of the staff of life, and we take the opportunity to inject a little yeast into the life of staff while we’re at it. (Is that too many dough puns, or am I off the hook?)