Can you hear me now? | July Update from Craig Clark

A few years back I was in a program that was led by an aeronautical engineer who had been a Project Manager on the Challenger Space Shuttle.

As you may recall, 73 seconds into launch the Space Shuttle exploded. The cause ultimately was reported to be the “O” rings inability to function properly in the cold temperatures in high altitude.

In a conversation during a break he shared with me that in developing the Challenger, he had reported several times his project team had concerns about the “O” rings ability to perform in certain conditions. He said after the third or fourth time he was told to “stop bringing it up!” Later the Rogers Commission was formed by President Reagan to study and report on the causes.

In the report, they identified one of the major causes was the NASA organizational culture and decision-making process.

It turns out that the morning of the launch, there was concern expressed about the ground temperatures being unsuitable for a launch, which went ignored and unreported.

17% of the American population, yes of our entire population, excited to see the Shuttle launch witnessed the mid-air explosion.

Thinking of this incident brings me to two of our fundamentals, #2 Listen Generously and #9 Speak to be Understood.

For first time readers, these fundamentals are 26 fundamental behaviors Momentum disciplines ourselves around to build and maintain a culture of high engagement and performance.

We discuss one of them each week and then share those covered each month in our monthly blog.

In every encounter, there are always two drivers to the outcome–the result to be produced and the relationship between the party(s).

All too often in our drive to “get it done”, especially if we manage/lead people, we are focused on the result and less so on the relationship.

A common response, if the result we want does not get produced, is seeking to assign blame somewhere while our internal dialogue is telling ourselves…”you should have done more, less, better, etc.” Usually, we don’t have to endure a Presidential Commission to discover the cause.

Rather than flogging ourselves, or worse, someone else, what if we asked ourselves “what did I not listen to” or “what blind spot of mine led to this result?” (Blind spots probably deserve a whole blog of their own.)

A principle we operate on here at Momentum is our reality is a creation of our own set of beliefs. For this, I will defer to Dr. Einstein:

“All reality is merely an illusion, albeit a persistent one!”

As humans, we grow up with a strategy on how to deal effectively with the world. How to get what we want–love, attention, sex, bling, success, etc.

Our strategies are built on the beliefs we develop throughout life from experiences, relationships, education and so forth. Those beliefs become the filters we see life through and consequently, we are guided by our internal dialogue counseling our actions in getting things done.

The more we listen to ourselves, the more faulty data we have to make decisions from. Fortunately, not in front of 17% of the US population.

Here’s the point all of this is leading up to, the more we listen to others, the better intel we get, and the better intel we get the better decisions we make.

Development Dimensions International studied 15,000 leaders from over 300 organizations across 20 industries and 18 countries. This research went into their High-Resolution Leadership Report.

Included in that report was the following,

“while skills such as encouraging involvement of others and recognizing accomplishments are important—empathy, yes empathy—rose to the top as the most critical driver of overall performance.”

We are simply talking about listening to others and listening in a specialized way.

Ray Krznaric, author of Empathy: Why it Matters, and How to Get It sums up empathy this way: empathy in the modern workplace is not just about being able to see things from another perspective. It’s the cornerstone of teamwork, good innovative design and smart leadership. It’s about helping others feel heard and understood.

We do not come designed to listen this way. Most of what we call listening is listening to what we are saying about what the other person is saying. There is that internal dialogue again!

Developing empathy, especially the skill of listening with empathy, takes awareness, work and practice. I’ve been at it for a long time and best I can tell it’s a lifetime pursuit. In addition to the emotional lift when I experience another feeling heard, I get far superior intel, I get a much higher level of engagement from the other party and interestingly, greater empathy for myself.

Don’t you think you deserve that?

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