Everyone views the world through rose colored glasses. We all come from varied backgrounds and are equally unique. These differences should be celebrated and used to create a better understanding of the world we live in. Beyond the worthy goal of inclusion, these differences help all of us see things in a new way. Behold the power of perception!
When most of us see a cat we typically think, cute cuddly, funny, or simply not dangerous (well… maybe not all of us). However, from the mouse’s perspective, when he sees a cat, he sees and smells danger. Trust me, if you were the mouse’s size you would too.
In our last post, we discussed the concept of Active Listening and its importance in our daily lives. A large part of being an active listener is translating the message into a language that you understand. That translation process inevitably includes our personal perceptions.
Whenever we encounter new information, we try and make sense of the information using our experiences. Because of this application of our experiences in interpreting our world, we can run into the dangerous trap of our perceptions leading us down the path of misunderstanding and confusion.
A common example of perceptions is driving. Most drivers tend to get slightly upset (okay, angry) at other drivers. They won’t get out of the middle lane, they cut us off, they don’t use their blinker, they drive too fast, they drive too slow, etc. This anger often causes us to feel that the other drivers are out to get us, that their behaviors and actions are a personal attack of some kind. The reality is that more often than not, the other driver simply made a mistake and was in no way out to get you.
These concepts are not new to us, but those of us who aspire to be better communicators have to start cleaning our own house (i.e., yourself). Take inventory about how you are perceiving the world. Do you feel that you’re not getting enough information? Is the world out to get you? Does everything you touch turn to gold?
In order to better understand those we interact with, we must first understand how we translate the world. Once you understand, then you can push past those dangerous perceptions and try and see the world from others viewpoints and other perspectives.
Most of us have heard that we must be “active listeners” and refrain from being passive listeners. Passive listening in and of itself is not bad, in that passive listening is simply the physical act of hearing. There are many occasions in which we passively listen, such as listening to music, television, podcasts, conferences or webinars, etc. The danger of passive listening is that we can slip into a trance or get distracted to the point where we are not really listening to what is going on and being said.
An active listener on the other hand is seeking to actively engage in the message. The active listener doesn’t necessarily have to engage with the speaker, but they must at least engage their mind and dichotomize the message, reword the message in their own words, formulate questions, and build on the information to create their own understanding.
Imagine a mouse creeping across the field and then all of a sudden, it stops, sticks its head in the air, its nose is twitching and ears are wiggling. You can feel it straining to hear or smell something. On the other side of the field you see a cat trying everything it can to stalk the mouse. At this point, the mouse is actively listening for a predator. What do you call a passively listening mouse? Dinner.
Think back to those individuals that
you connected well at networking events and other professional get-togethers.
Did you connect with them because they talked a lot, or was it because they
seemed genuinely interested in hearing what you
had to say? Chances are it was the latter.
In today’s modern information age, the large amounts of data we are inundated with every day affects our ability to truly actively listen. Whether our cell phones distract us, emails or the latest cat and mouse video, we must not let this information overload our minds or bleed into our personal interactions. Challenge yourselves to take a break from electronics for at least 30 minutes (an hour would be better) every day. Take that time to read a book, mediate, or have a real conversation with a colleague.
Today marks the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, soccer’s biggest event which occurs only once every four years. The most popular sport in the world, there will likely be a few football (soccer) fans throughout your office that may be somewhat distracted over the next month. Especially with matches occurring in the wee hours of the morning in the States, employees may be sleep deprived coming to work, or sneaking in a match or two on their computer.
We are all human and all have days that are more productive than others, but a great employee knows how to balance those days where your nose is to the grindstone with those that are a bit more low key and relaxing and may be riddled with distractions. Whether the distraction be a large sporting event, a vacation or leave of absence, or family drama, we will all experience disturbances to our normal routine from time to time. Employees who once produced exceptional work and were motivated and engaged may go through a spell of being a “skater,” doing the bare minimum to make it to the next payday unnoticed.
June also marks the start of summer, a season that is notorious for a rise in call ins and absences, and nonchalant employees have mentally checked out. Whether it is World Cup frenzy that has your employees itching to be in a pub with a beer in hand, or an individual whose mind is already swinging in a hammock at the beach, making sure that your employees stay on track is vital.
When you know there will be factors that may contribute to the attention and engagement of your employees, prepare accordingly by communicating expectations and implementing means for flexibility. Communicating expectations is a crucial component in any successful relationship, and informing your employees of what you need from them on a regular basis is key in ensuring production standards are met, and levels of employee morale and motivation remain high.
Work with your employees on effective time management techniques to ensure deadlines don’t land on the day before an employee is scheduled to be gone for a week. Encourage them to schedule tasks appropriately so when they return, they aren’t overwhelmed with a long list of time-sensitive tasks when bouncing back from vacation can be a challenge.
Follow along in our next post when we delve further into a primary cause for distracted employees, summer fever, and how managers can effectively prevent this common occurrence before it becomes an issue that affects production and morale.
Let’s face it, we all have favorite employees and coworkers. Once we start recognizing that we are always going to be inclined to like certain individuals more than others, we can start overcoming the biases that come along with it.
Seth Godin recently wrote an excellent blog on biases (We are All Biased). To summarize, he talked about how biases can be useful when we have insufficient information to make a decision. However, a wise leader will understand and recognize the drawbacks of biases. This concept can also apply to our interactions within our professional relationships.
As managers and leaders, we have to take an honest look at our own biases and how they affect our day-to-day interactions. This reflection should include identifying why we get along with some of our coworkers/employees and not others. Additionally, we should take a hard look as to why we don’t have a natural affinity for certain individuals. Finally, in our self-evaluation we need to take a cold, hard look at those biases and ensure they are not influencing our interactions.
I believe we have all been on the other side of the coin in that we have had less than ideal interactions with those in authority over us and we can’t seem to ever get anything right. Now take those same feelings and compare them to some of your direct reports or coworkers. Is it possible that your biases are causing them to fail or at the very least are limiting their chances for success?
During this holiday season and in the upcoming new year, take the time to self-evaluate and think about what you can do differently to ensure that everyone you interact with has a positive experience. Ensure that you are providing all of your employees with equal treatment and the same opportunities to succeed. To summarize, eliminate your naughty or nice list and focus on true objective evaluations while recognizing your own biases.
Take a moment and think about your day. How often where you interrupted by something or someone? One statistic says that 28% of your workday is dealing with unnecessary distractions (2009, Basex). Even as I write this blog post I am finding myself distracted by my cell phone, email, and even thoughts about my other projects (both personal and professional).
And I am back from my five-minute jaunt into email. Is this all too familiar for you? Some days it is amazing that we get anything done. I found it necessary to create some simple tricks to help me focus when working on a project.
- Email: Turn off your email program. Yes, you heard me right. Schedule your time to check email. If you are very busy, use your out of office setting that notifies people to call you if it is an emergency otherwise you will check email at X time.
- Phone: This one may be even harder than email. Turn your cell phone off or at the very least silent and set your office phone to do not disturb.
- Social/work visits: Set a busy time on your corporate calendar and if you have a door to your office, close it. If you don’t have a door, try posting a sign on your cube letting those drop-in coworkers know that you are unavailable.
- Music: If you are a music listener like me, find a genre that doesn’t distract. When studying for my Bar exam I chose music that had few words and a steady rhythm. The bonus was that earphones isolated me from the outside world. If music is distracting, put on noise canceling earphones but don’t plug them in (earplugs also work).
Trust me on this, there are very few things that are such an emergency that isolating yourself for two hours to work on a project would be devastating to the company or your work.
What do you do to avoid distractions at work?