How do you feel about the way you interact with your colleagues and leaders? Do you listen actively hoping to learn something from them or do you preemptively assume you’re better and therefore you close off at the first divergence?
Contrary to what most people I work with might think, I have an introvert nature. I find solace in moments where I’m quiet at home with my family, away from the crowds. When I have to run an errand outside (for instance, drop the car at the repair shop) which requires me to wait an entire morning until it’s done, I take my laptop and go to a place where I can feel quiet; usually a library or a quiet coffee shop will do the trick, as long as I bring my headphones to focus. When I have a meeting with a partner or a colleague, I often suggest that we go somewhere that is distraction-free so we can have an overall richer experience. Ever since I started working remotely close to 8 years ago, I have been so much more productive than having to listen to chatter and phone rings all the time.
Despite all that, I do enjoy meaningful conversations with people. It’s great to find people that think like me and are empathetic to the stories I share. However, it’s not always the case where both parts agree on every single point of view — they’re bound to disagree, even on the smallest thing. The workplace is certainly not exempt from disagreement. In fact, a healthy dose of discussion and divergence is the very foundation for growth within a team and its members.
When I joined the workforce 11 years ago I was very stubborn and close-minded. My ego was the size of a boulder! I could barely hold any conversation because I had a strong sense of prejudice towards my peers, I’ll admit that. I was too proud of my own skills, I was passionate about the impact I thought I could bring to others. Truth be told, I sparked positive reactions in others through my work. However, my inability to fit the team outweighed my results and I was forced to endure a path of resistance and fear.
Many years have passed since then but I took that learning experience very closely to my heart. Nowadays, I often ask myself this question: do I still disregard my peers’ opinions and feedback as before? How am I growing as a person and as a leader?
Now that you know a little bit about my dark side, you’ll quickly realize that the hardest thing I had to learn was how to listen carefully and not judge my peer. It would take a significant effort to hear what the other person had to say, free of judgement, and not open my mouth, let alone give myself a couple of seconds to think about what he/she said. Once I sought to resign my ego, appreciate the reasoning behind their words and respect their argument as valid as my own, perhaps even more, I began to see significant improvements in my relationships. Whereas before I disputed any form of feedback and I didn’t learn as effectively, I am now opened up many more opportunities, which in turn give me room to share my thoughts and experiences to others.
I’ve read Dale Carnegie’s book on how to win friends and influence people twice. There is a series of timeless suggestions from The Economic Press he refers to that relate to the way we debate with others and win their trust. If you’re interested, there’s a link in the show notes. In a nutshell:
Whether debating an argument with an adversary, running a meeting to gather ideas with the team or pitching a proposal to leaders, I’ve learned (the hard way) that the best way to draw a positive outcome is to adopt an uplifting stance towards people. If you stay cool in the face of disagreement, accept all arguments to weigh in in your growth process and show genuine appreciation for whoever is partaking in the discussion, you will develop stronger relationships and your knowledge will expand accordingly. On the other hand, should you stand your ground on your opinions and close off at the first hint of disagreement, don’t expect people to come to you in the future.