We all do it. Rushing to Judgement is easy to do. We observe something, make assumptions, draw conclusions, believe in those assumptions and take action. This morning a co-worker and I were volunteering offsite and had a call to take. We agreed to take the calls from our parked cars, then afterwards we were going out for a coffee. The call started, and I had not noticed where Jeff had parked. Later on in the call, I assumed Jeff was driving, as I heard car blinkers, etc. and I wondered why he had left. As I obediently stayed in my car, as was the plan, Mollie walked by and I took a moment to rat on Jeff for breaking our deal. The call ended, however, and there was Jeff walking up to my car window. “I thought you took off,” I said. “No, been here the whole time,” Jeff responded. Harvard Business Professor Chris Argyris branded this process the Ladder of Inference, a metaphorical ladder of steps we go through as we process observations (Jeff must be driving and not sitting in his car), draw conclusions (Jeff broke the deal, that jerk) based on what we assume (he didn’t want to have coffee with me), and take action (make sure Mollie knew what Jeff did to me). There’s an inherent danger in doing this because it can create bad judgement. In this case, it did. I was wrong. So what do I mean? This process of moving up the ladder can go pretty quickly. It supposes that if we don’t take the time to collect all the data, or all of the facts, we can pretty much justify in our own minds that what we observe is true, because we believe it to be true based on our previous observations. Why did I select the data that Jeff was in his car instead of actually confirming that he had left the parking lot? Why did I assume that the blinker sound was coming from his car instead of seeing who else was on the call and could have been driving? I should have stopped myself. To avoid this selective bias, we must stop ourselves and work harder to collect more data and facts about the situation. Ask ourselves, what am I missing? Why did I only select this data to use to draw my conclusions but didn’t seek more data? These are good reminders that when we feel ourselves rushing to judgement, the more appropriate thing to do is pause and see what may be on the other side of that story. And as my mother always told me, there’s always two sides to every story. I’m interested to hear from you on this topic. Shoot me a comment/reply/DM. Here’s a 3 minute video on the topic that I’ve sent people before that is a very brief and a good overview.
I get energy from curious people at work. It seems that from my experience, curious people can typically help you get things done in a better way. Curious people ask the question “why?” multiple times until they understand the root cause of something. Curious people respond when you ask them for feedback on what could get better.
But what happens when your workforce seemingly has lost its ability to be curious?
Curious people ignite the flame of critical thinking and problem solving; not-so-curious people can extinguish that flame.
For me, lack of curiosity typically relates to general apathy. In the workplace, that could mean not raising your hand, or letting someone else raise their hand, or just going through the motions. Your calendar may be full from 8-5, but logging into that conference call to have your name show up in the panel that you were there—even though you didn’t contribute anything to the meeting—makes you feel busy.
It can also point to another sign—that you are too comfortable. This happens after years of steady employment where you’ve been allowed to just go through the motions, show up when you needed to show up, but nothing externally or internally is creating a sense of urgency to do anything different. Perhaps you tried at one point but became de-motivated when things didn’t work out the way you envisioned them to.
One flaw in all of that is that it assumes that motivation can only come externally—from someone or something other than yourself. The boss passed you over for a promotion. The Department reorganized you into a new area. The company decided to continue to invest in the legacy technology that you’ve worked on for decades, so you should be set.
I think there is too much risk to behave this way in the workplace. Leaders are searching for curious people as it demonstrates a different level of engagement. Leaders what to know how to make things better, and curious people are motivated to contribute to that outcome. And finally, leaders need curious people. Without them, something externally will disrupt the situation, without a doubt.
Curiosity equates to motivation. Motivation equates to making things happen on your own terms—not the boss, the department, or the company.
I’ve learned this perspective over time and through experience. I observe people across the entire spectrum of curiosity and motivation. Re-framing to putting things on your own terms, and taking control of your own motivation and curiosity can not only lead to a happier work life, but one that has a higher potential of success and satisfaction.
I was excited to get a new hire and find a location for him to sit. Right outside of my office was this beautiful empty cubicle—his new home, I thought. The cube had been empty for months, it was a perfect spot. My excitement was building, until I saw the black and white sign, mocking me in 72 point Calibri:
Right in front of my own eyes, the office equivalent of stretching across 5 folding chairs.
After searching around, I discovered that someone had placed this sign and reserved this spot for an open and not yet filled position months ago.
When you come from a big family, the concept of reserving or saving things is foreign. Take food, for example. If dinner is on the table, and you’re late, then you just don’t get the good stuff.
“Show up on time,” my mother used to say when I showed up late and the only dinner portions left was a copious portion of red beets.
This theme is all around us. You ever been to a parade and see those empty chairs you’d take to a kid’s soccer game just lined up in the front row? They put them there days in advance. Deep inside the recesses of my mind I wish someone would steal them.
How about at a school play? It’s like someone raided the lost and found table hanging a bunch of tattered coats, hats and scarves across a bunch of folding chairs. At least have the dignity to just make your kid lie down across the chairs…
I wonder what this says about our culture. Do we respect showing up on time? Are we trying to protect those in our clan that are just a little slower than the rest of us?
Sometimes, we all just need to experience eating the beets, teaching us to show up next time just a little earlier.
What’s your favorite “saver” story?
“Ohio,” my father said out loud in the middle of Sunday church.
Puzzled, I looked at him, and he just smiled back. The biggest smile I’ve seen from him in a while. I must admit, I wondered for a second if he was losing it. I tilted my head, shrugged my shoulders, and moved on.
Later that day, he was hanging out with my family. Someone had posed a question about what year an athlete had played on a local team. One of my children, seemingly on auto-pilot, quickly looked up the answer on his device and blurted out the answer, like a robot reading from a script.
“Don’t kids have any sense of wonderment anymore?” my Dad asked. “No, not really,” I responded matter-of-factly.
Dad’s right. Whatever ability we’ve ever had to truly ponder and think about something, to rack our brains for the answer, seems gone today. Vanished, like hand writing a letter to someone. We’ve all been out with friends to have “that guy” in the group who is always on his phone looking up answers to questions that are posed. Our ability to actually dialog on topics like this seems to be fading.
I suppose one could argue whether or not there are any unintended consequences for this, but I admit I worry that the value mental problem solving, and the sweat equity involved to do so, is missing from our youth today. I remember thinking about work problems for days, only to solve them days later in a moment of silence. I felt happiness from that, figuring out something on my own, giving it time, making by brain work for it.
Today, if kids don’t know the answer to something, they just look up the answer. Done. Move on to a new topic. No debates, bets, or dialog. Like it’s a waste of time to actually sit and think about something.
That night, I asked Dad why he said the word “Ohio” out loud during mass that morning. He said that days before, his trivia calendar asked to name the three states that were four-letter words. He immediately recalled Iowa and Utah, but couldn’t remember the third one.
Days later, it came to him: Ohio. And, with it, a smile. He had figured it out on his own, at his pace. Thanks Dad!
How good are you at saying “no”?
At some point in my career journey, I became programmed to say yes as a default. I remember getting training to avoid words like “no” and “but”; rather, we were coached to say more positive words like “yes” and “and”.
Who would ever want to be referred to as a “no man” instead of a “yes man”?
My mother had seven children, and she would often say to us matter-of-factly, “No is a complete sentence!”
Mom, an incredible woman, wasn’t a “yes man.” (or yes woman, if that term even exists)
Truth is, Mom couldn’t say yes to everything, even if she had wanted to. With seven children, she knew that was a recipe for disaster. She needed to keep the lights on, handle our basic needs, and ensure we were all setup to be successful and contributing members of society. Simply put, she focused on her primary mission and purpose, and in order to do that she just had to say “no” to other things that would be in direct conflict of that. If Mom spoke corporate-speak, she would have said she was good at “controlling scope”.
Here’s the wake up call: Failure to say “no” may lead to your failure.
While you may be popular initially, a one-outcome decision tree (yes, yes, yes…) just doesn’t scale. There are always tradeoffs to consider.
If you want to start to improve on your “no” game, then consider helping your stakeholders understand why you are saying no. Saying “no” with full wisdom of the issue at hand can be a credible answer too. If you can get them past any emotional issues your answer is causing, they may be open to hearing why. No one wants to say “no” to be a mean person; usually, you have good sound logic for saying “no.” Explain yourself, talk about the tradeoffs and the considerations, take accountability for your answer, and soon you may find that your stakeholders will accept, and appreciate, your critical thinking.
In youth sports, everyone fixates on playing time. Hear any parent, on any field, in any season, and likely the conversation surrounds playing time.
I’ve been there. Usually the scenario is where you and your child believe he/she should be getting more playing time. More is better, right? I’ve found myself propagating these emotions.
Sometimes it even gets to the point where your child asks you tough questions like:
Why don’t I ever get into the games?
Why don’t I get a chance?
Why don’t the coaches like me?
Tough questions for a parent who loves his child.
Our typical reaction is one of defense, to assume an injustice is happening and to be angry. But we focus so much on the reward (playing time) that we forget about focusing our energy on what we can control (e.g., practice attitude, hustle, improving our game, and just being ourselves.)
If in our minds we can change the reward paradigm and focus it more internally, and live more in the moment, I think we’d be surprised that the rewards are right in front of us, and our energies are much better spent thinking about that.
And we all know this is not just about youth sports. Our lives, at work, are full of similar feelings and emotions. It might not be called playing time, but it’s definitely called promotion or opportunity. What we dwell on–or not–is our choice. Dwelling on what someone else got, that you didn’t, is the same mistake we make when we focus on playing time in youth sports.
There are rewards right in front of us, we just can’t always see them.
I tell my sons all the time that you should judge the season at the end of the season. Life is full of trials, and what you make of it defines your character.