In Part I of this Note, I introduced you to Ms. Caroline, my 87-year-old seatmate on a flight from Chicago, IL to Canton, OH. Although blind, in that short period of time Ms. Caroline showed me how to pay attention to the world around me with more than just my eyes. As I thought about our conversation, the applications to business jumped out at me.
In Part I, I raised the question, What is the feel of your place? To continue, let me add that feel has another meaning when you consider the atmosphere or environment of a place. Ms. Caroline described how being near something grand could be felt at a more base or subconscious level. How would she perceive a day spent in the places you do your work?
From my experience, I believe you can feel a proactive, at-the-ready culture versus one that is simply reacting to the events of the day. You can feel an organization built on employee trust and empowerment. Of course, this means the opposite is true as well. A reactive, rushed, broken, or ultra-competitive culture can reverberate through a company from how the employees work (or don’t) with each other straight through to financial performance. The challenge for you is to be perceptive enough to pick up on the intangible, honest enough to look objectively at the picture, and strong enough to keep going or to change as required to receive the desired results.
What does it sound like around your place? During my conversation with Ms. Caroline, she described how her footsteps bounced off floors and walls and how voices carried down ancient corridors. What would she learn about you if she listened to the sounds coming out of your office or on one of your job sites? Words of commitment and support, of employees having each other’s best interests at heart? Words of collaboration and your staff coming together to figure things out? Or would it be the opposite?
I know there is a common saying about sticks and stones but, in reality, the words we choose to say to each other hold more power than we may first think. Words that lift up can build. Words that are harsh can tear down. The words you choose can set a path for a colleague to achieve inspired results or send them into a spiral of self-doubt that is difficult to rebound from. Be careful with words you use and pay attention to how they are being received. I am not saying that you cannot hold people accountable for their actions, but I would be mindful of the delivery of the message more than the subject matter of the message itself. What do you say about the new guy in the office or the old timer who is a year from retirement? How do your coworkers hear you talk about your customers, as challenging as they may be at times?
Since Ms. Caroline depended on the way a place sounded to paint her mind’s picture, she also became an excellent listener. She closed her mouth and opened her ears, paying attention to the small details to get an accurate view of what was going on around her.
How well do we listen? Too often, I feel like I listen only to put together my response or listen with only half of my attention. Given the opportunity to look away from that all-important email or to listen with the full me, I wonder how much greater my understanding of what was being said around me would be.
What I had planned for my short plane ride across the Midwest was to listen to a few tunes, read a little, and prepare for the week ahead. What I got instead was a reality check on how I interact with what is going on around me. Too often, I look with only my eyes and trick myself into thinking I have the whole picture. I’m not sure if she knew it, but there is a sneaking little suspicion that she did. My conversation with Ms. Caroline challenged me to stop leaning on my eyes alone—to pay attention to how it feels, listen for what it sounds like, and put together the WHOLE picture. Now, I challenge you to do the same. You may be surprised by what you see.