Controlling by Listening
In my younger days as an entrepreneur (entrepreneur in training?) – all those many years ago – I had plenty of temper and virtually no control. I mistook any disagreement with my opinions as a personal attack and felt I had to vigorously defend my position at all times and usually very loudly. While I’m sure that I can blame something my parents did or didn’t do for this deep-seated and subjugated rage, it probably had more to do with the fact I often felt that I didn’t know exactly what I was doing and I was afraid that people were going to find out. Getting loud and obnoxious was my way of trying to mask this fear, along with my insecurity, and to feel like I was in control.
There you go. There’s enough business therapy in that paragraph to save you a bundle at the psychologist’s office.
Not every manager has to deal with such demons. There are loads of people with the wisdom and self-assurance to find their path to excellence without making fools of themselves or, at least, not wasting so much time. My guess is that I’m not alone in the camp of having to work these things out, though. In my case, I was very lucky. I had an older and wiser mentor who took me aside after making a fool of myself and made me repeat the mantra, when you yell you lose power. At first, I didn’t get it, but I eventually came around to snatching the pebble out of my master’s hand. Yelling just shuts down the discussion. Less information is put on the table for fear of the negative response and people don’t even think about commenting on actions or decisions because of the likely reprisal.
Because my mentor was a patient man, he just chocked my slow progress up to my being dense and kept at me. Every Friday evening, he reviewed the number of times I had lashed out that week and gave me informal goals for the coming weeks. Slowly, but surely, I learned and eventually moved on to more advanced concepts like, just shut up and listen, and, make sure you understand what the other person is saying before you pass judgement. Revolutionary.
It was a real epiphany for me. I started to listen and my responses turned from loud retorts to probing questions. More got done, the groups I led moved faster and people started to be interested in telling me what they thought and how they were doing. Discussions got better, more issues and advantages were exposed before they became crises and my direct reports began to enjoy their jobs more. My job as a manager got easier, too. Funny how seemingly small changes can have such a major impact, huh?
Listening, probing and responding thoughtfully are important for everyone no matter what they do or who they interact with. For managers, though, these skills are absolutely critical. In fact, they represent the the most important and basic skills of a successful manager. If you find yourself in a situation like mine a local mentor is a real asset. If one isn’t around, though, changing the way you operate to adopt these principles isn’t hard. Review your performance after each meeting and interaction. It’s not a formal process, but the reflection will help you make minor adjustments for the next time. The results will definitely be worth the effort.