“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.”
Remember that chant? It’s straight from the pages of Playground 101: How to “strike back” when insulted by others. The playground could get ugly. Insults flew back and forth across the schoolyard.
“Hey, four eyes!”
“You’re such a spaz!”
“What a dork!”
“Hey, Dog Breath, what are you doing?”
No matter how many times you chanted “Sticks and stones…” it never made the conflict better.
Poor communication is at the heart of relationship conflict. That doesn’t change once you graduate from college to a different type of playground. But in an increasingly vicious workplace it’s the ability and willingness to listen, not saying something “clever,” that’s a leadership skill.
Why the increase in the need to listen in our world? You might be surprised, hang on…
In their new book, Pendulum – How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future, Roy H. Williams and Michael R. Drew explain the mindset shifts in society between a culture of “We” and “Me.”
At one extreme is “We” – the group, the team, the tribe, the collective.
At the other is “Me,” – the individual … unique, special, and possessing unlimited potential.
Pendulum proposes a 20-year upswing to the Zenith of “We” followed by a 20 year down swing; then, a 20-year upswing to the Zenith of “Me” followed by a 20 year downswing and completion of the 80 year round trip.
The authors track 3,000 years of history, tracing the historic events and people that reveal this shift between “We” [working together for the common good] and “Me” [the desire for individuality and freedom].
We’re currently swinging up to the Zenith of “We” and we, like those in the past, will take a good thing too far before the correction comes. Roy Williams points out a troubling reality when he writes,
Virtually every instance of widespread viciousness in Western society has happened within ten years of the Zenith of a “We.” (Page 184)
…the simple truth is this: unless we begin working together to soften this coming trend…we’re about to enter the ugliest twenty years of the Pendulum’s eighty- year round trip. (Page 185)
Back to Our Playground
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen R. Covey
What Stephen Covey says isn’t just what we did on the playground. We do it as adults. One phrase used to describe the upswing toward the “We” Zenith is: “I’m O.K. you’re not.” When this is taken to the extreme the world gets ugly.
While not limited to America’s 2012 Presidential campaign, do you remember how the White House race got ugly? The Obama campaign suggested Romney’s plans for Wall Street would put people “in chains”. While the Romney campaign suggested Obama take his “campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago.”
When it comes to ugly playground behavior, respect for the other person is dismissed even at the “top levels” of leadership.
Commitment to Listening
So what does it take to really listen during “vicious times?” The authors provide two suggestions to help us listen effectively. (Page 186)
ONE: Listen with your whole heart, and try not to interrupt.
When do you put words into the mouth of others? When are you accusatory?
The goal: to understand what the other person is saying.
TWO: Be capable of articulating calmly how “the other side” sees it.
How well can you articulate the position of your antagonist? Is it to their satisfaction?
The goal: to acknowledge the goodness and sincerity found on both sides of the argument.
How well do you listen?
When do you make it hard for others to hear you?
What if next time, you try this?
When life is intense and fear shoves you around, fight ugly by listening.
- Breathe – it will slow you and your speech down AND send a message to your brain to calm down and relax
- Ask yourself – “Why do I want to fight (or run or take a cheap shot)?” “What am I afraid of?” “Why am I so frustrated?”
- See the people – focus on the problem and you’ll lose sight of the person which ends your ability to pursue a solution
- Now, ask open-ended questions – accusations or “yes/no” questions stoke the fire of conflict; create space to think by asking a question that begins with How, When, Where, What, Who, or if careful with your tone, Why?
When you truly see and hear those who don’t agree with you, you choose to serve them instead of your own ego. That’s not easy, but servant leadership will always be a good thing, whatever the future brings.
Now if only we could take that back to the playground…
For more practical help developing your crucial “soft skills” order your copy!
THE PEOPLE PROJECT:
Your Guide to Changing Behavior and Growing Your Influence as a Leader