Listen First: Fix Second

All too often we are in a hurry to fix a problem without fully understanding the underlying nature of the issue.  Doing this with mechanical equipment is one thing (and still not recommended), but with people it is a completely different story.

I have a great example of this in my personal life.  My wife and I were shopping this weekend and we were looking at some items we needed for the house.  These were relatively expensive (or they were in my eyes) and it was just too much for me to handle.

See, I have a problem with spending money.  I hate it.  And when I say hate it, I really mean it.  I get sick to my stomach and I start to sweat.  I don’t do well with buying things.  I can spend money on a vacation because to me that is an experience that will last a lifetime.  That, to me, is a good investment.  But buying objects is an issue.

As prices started to mount I felt my anxiety do the same.  My wife was attempting to “help” by saying all of the wrong things.  I knew that my issues were not logical but my wife was trying to use reason to help me: something I normally respond to.  She was doing her best and we had a good discussion, but it made me think about how this would apply at work.

In Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” he states

“Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood”

I kept trying to get my wife to understand the way I felt and she was trying to get me to understand how my reactions were illogical.  I knew my actions were illogical.  I just didn’t care about logic at the time.

We do the same thing at work.  When people start to tell us about a problem they are having we usually jump to solve it without trying to understand how the person feels or how it affects the job.  We are so busy that we figure we just need to check the “done” box and move on.  After all, a good leader removes obstacles, right?  Taking the time to understand the situation, both the technical and emotional impacts, can be consuming.  But the dividends are most valuable.

By listening and truly trying to understand by asking clarifying questions and prompting for more information, we build trust with people.  Trust progresses into meaningful relationships and these are the foundation of loyalty, productivity, and a sense of value.  Once we truly understand, then we may be able to better help.  Helping is best when we can provide the tools for the person to remove the obstacle on his own.  This helps to provide a sense of accomplishment and shows your support.  It also demonstrates your trust in the person to handle these situations without your intervention and creates confidence where there may not have been before.

If we can take the time to understand we can create powerful results.  After all, it is more fun to talk with our people than it is to fill out the budget spreadsheet anyway.

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