Listening With Your Eyes

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I came across this quote while looking for something else, and saved it because I like it so much. It’s so true – if you don’t want to hear what other people have to say, they will stop sharing their thoughts with you. Your team has so much skill, perspective, creativity, possibility, and innovation inside, but if you value being right more than being open, you will lose all of it.

A few months ago I referenced an article in the Harvard Business Review that talked about getting the CEO out of their bubble. No one likes giving the boss bad news, and so a boss that doesn’t seek out what’s going wrong will likely never learn about it.

That’s right. Not only do you need to listen, you need to actively seek out people to listen to. It’s a great first step to not tear the head off of anyone giving you news you don’t want to hear, or ideas that don’t fit with your ideas. Keeping an even temper ALWAYS can give people a little more trust and courage to approach you. But that’s not enough to really get a full view of what’s going on in your organization.

When I bring workshops using the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology to an organization, one of the advantages is that people can store a lot of information in a single LEGO® model. It means they don’t have to store their story in their heads, because it’s backed up in the model, so people can listen more fully to others. Plus, there is something to look at while listening. This ‘listening with their eyes’ helps people understand what is being said, and remember it more fully. Being encouraged to ask questions of the model if there’s something that they don’t understand also helps keep people engaged and involved in what the other person means.

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People need safe space to meet face to face to be able to function well as a team.

The good news is you don’t need to have LEGO® bricks in the office to be able to listen with your eyes. Look around your organization. Do people look tense? Are all the shoulders up around the ears? Do people take time at lunch to eat and talk? How late to people have to stay to keep up with their work load? Listen to your organization. Do people sound impatient? Tired? Frustrated?

Sometimes merely asking how things are going is enough to get to meaningful information. But if you have had a history of killing the messenger, or if you rarely emerge from your lair, you may have to dig deeper to get to real information. Start asking questions about what you see, and really listen to the answers.

A quick note about listening: Not knowing things might make you uncomfortable. I hate it when someone points out a place I think I know things but I don’t. It makes me feel inadequate and stupid. Here’s the thing – you’re not supposed to know everything. That’s why you have people. So please take a deep breath, or whatever else calms you down, and allow the discomfort to wash through you and away. In the end, what you learn will be worth all of the icky feelings.

Practice Makes Perfect – Or Does It?

My father is a professional musician. He always told me that only perfect practice makes perfect. If you practice your mistakes, you get really good at making those mistakes!

This makes sense for anything where you are training your fingers or body to do something the same way over and over. Musicians, dancers, martial artists, all want their muscles to think for them from having practiced until perfection is innate.

What about other arts? I think practice makes easier, in a lot of ways. My husband is a professional artist, and he says everyone has 10,000 bad drawings inside them, so you’d better get started drawing to get them out. The more you draw, the more you learn about drawing, and the easier it is to draw next time. The more you perform, the more ease you have with performance.

I read about a ceramics teacher who divided his class in half. The first half he graded on quantity – they’d get an A if they used enough clay and made enough stuff during the semester. The second half he graded on quality – they’d get an A if they made really good stuff. What he found was that the half that made a lot of stuff kept practicing, learning from mistakes, trying something new, and getting better and better. The half that focused on making really good stuff spent a lot of time talking about it and planning it, but the stuff they made wasn’t that good.

So, another reason practice makes perfect is that practice allows you to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It lets you try out new things in a safe space.

The problem comes when all you do is practice. Or theorize. Or talk about it. At some point you have to do it. Experience comes from doing.

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I took a class with Caterina Rando, and she doesn’t like the idea of practice. She says just go out there and do it. The doing is practice of a sort, in that you get better and better the more you do it. But if you spend all your time trying to get perfect before putting yourself out in the world you’ll never get anywhere.

The thing is, mistakes teach you something. No one will ever get to be so good they don’t make any mistakes – and if they did, they’d be boring and stunted. You risk mistakes to try something new. You risk mistakes to get bigger, brighter, and more amazing. But if you don’t risk it, you stay small and dim.

Mistakes aren’t the enemy. Staying stuck is.

In improvisational acting, mistakes are celebrated. People feel like they failed and are encouraged to say Yay! Mistakes are a sign that someone stretched. They tried for something. They learned something. This is a cause for celebration, not demonization. It takes courage to fail, loudly, publicly, and on stage. But if it’s not actually a failure, if it’s a sign you’re human and striving and it gives permission to everyone else to be human and striving too, that’s a victory.

So, practice scales. Practice tai-chi. And then get out there and dance. Wildly, imperfectly, and perfectly you.

Talking While Female

Have you ever felt that men talked more in your meetings than women did? Did you find other people in the same meetings didn’t think this happened? There is an app that tracks if men or women speak more in meetings:

Look Who’s Talking

I love that this exists! I love that you can get nice infographics to give to people who say everyone gets equal time to prove that they don’t – or to celebrate the groups where people really do get equal time.

I saw a cartoon once where a manager says to a woman at a meeting something like, “That’s a great idea Miss Jenkins. Would any of the men here like to make it?” (I just spent way too long looking through New Yorker cartoons trying to find it. I didn’t, so you’ll just have to picture it.)

When I go to networking events, I often ask people if they’ve ever been in the kind of meeting where only a couple people speak up, and no one else says anything? It’s really interesting to me that some people say that all their meetings are like that, and some people say none of their meetings are like that. I always wonder about their experiences. Could it be that there are people who have never, ever, been in meetings where one person dominated? Or where people disengaged because no one seemed interested in hearing from them?

I don’t want to make assumptions about people’s perceptions of how much men and women talk, but I find myself making up stories. I secretly assume that the people who think everyone participates in their meetings are the ones who dominate, and who don’t notice people on the fringes not participating. Maybe they think that the people who don’t speak up don’t have anything to say? Maybe they are busy making up their own stories about why those quiet people are quiet – they’re introverts, they’re happy to do what other people want, their opinions don’t really matter?

Brene Brown recently stated that if she could give people one tool, it would be to talk about the story they are making up in their heads. It’s really powerful! I tried it recently when my husband and I were talking. I asked to change the subject, and he agreed, and took his hand off my shoulder. I told him the thing, and then asked why he moved his hand. In my mind, I made up the story that he was worried about what I would say, that he assumed it would be something negative about him, and that he was already getting defensive. In fact, he moved his hand off because I kept gesturing, and he felt like his hand was getting in the way of my moving my arms. There is so much possibility in being open to another interpretation of events! I was able to see my husband as kind instead of walled off, and he could reassure me that my gremlins were not in fact real.

When I make up stories about how other people’s meetings actually go, I don’t really have a way to know. But if any of these people get curious, they can use this app to investigate. I would love to get real data from people about how their teams operate!

Out Of Balance

My son is sick. He is being very dramatic about it, too, whining and flopping on chairs instead of standing up, sniffling loudly and moaning about how much his head hurts. I think I’m getting his cold, and I want to declare how icky and tired I feel too.

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What is interesting to me is how bad we feel because our bodies are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. The symptoms we have are there because our bodies are fighting off infection, and the runny nose, fever, and cough are there to get the invaders out of the body or burn them to death. Our bodies feel out of whack because there has been an extreme test that requires an extreme reaction before we reset to normal.

It’s an odd perspective to say we feel icky because everything is going right. It sure feels like something is terribly wrong – and I suppose the invading germs are wrong – but our bodies reactions are exactly right.

What if this were a metaphor? Is there another place where things are out of balance and feel wrong? I’m tempted to say that the current political climate feels terrible because a poison has been introduced – hate, intolerance, injustice, etc. – and the tumult that is resulting – protests, marches, lawsuits, rioting, etc. – is the body politic’s response to the disease. It is absolutely the right thing to happen, and should happen more, to drive the poison out of our system. Even thought things feel scary and dangerous, it’s more dangerous not to fight back.

Each of us is our own white blood cell attacking intolerance in our own environment. Each of us has the option to speak up when we see injustice in action. We are stronger when there are more of us. No one can do our job for us – we are an army of individuals addressing what we see as we see it.

Sometimes we will get things wrong. Some of us might interpret others actions incorrectly, or through fear-tinted lenses, and attack the wrong people. Other times we might not be as aggressive as we should be because we fear for our own safety or we don’t know what to do or say. At times we will just sit down and give up because it all feels so uncomfortable and out of whack. We may complain more than we act. All of that is normal, and human, and forgivable, as long as we get back into the fight.

The health of the entire nation is at risk, here. It’s not just the immigrants, or people of color, or Muslims, or whatever other group has been targeted. The culture of fear and hatred this poison is spreading will harm all of us. We can’t pretend not to be affected, even if we are not the group being targeted for prison or deportation. All of us need to fight to the best of our abilities for compassion, tolerance, kindness, compromise, mediation, coming together, helping each other, finding ways to live together in peace and justice. Isn’t that the American way?