The “Other Side” Is Not Dumb

On openness and open minds. While you read “the facts,” who is to say that the author of the “facts” isn’t incorrect themselves given the “history is written by the victors”?  (Note  quote and article – via @SarahWorthy)

From “The Other Side is Not Dumb

I implore you to seek out your opposite. When you hear someone cite “facts” that don’t support your viewpoint don’t think “that can’t be true!” Instead consider, “Hm, maybe that person is right? I should look into this.”

Because refusing to truly understand those who disagree with you is intellectual laziness and worse, is usually worse than what you’re accusing the Other Side of doing.

and

high-culture

My take away from the article is similar to what I have always advocated (maybe it’s a meta-meta-meta loop and I’m being duped again?). Anyway, those principles in communication are:

  1. Be present.
  2. Listen first.
  3. Be open minded.

I believe I am qualified to speak on this subject for a few odd reasons.  Like the fact that it is hard for me to be present. Being open minded is always a challenge. And listening first is also a challenge. I’m qualified to venture an opinion because I have failed so many times. Sometimes failure teaches more than success.

Then, you get older. You listen more. You respect facts but question bias in statistics. You trust your gut. Your pattern recognition carries more weight than a persuasive graphic alone.

Mostly, in my opinion you learn to listen to other people deeply. You are “present” and you “hear” them. You learn to “see” people in a different way. You aren’t present because you have to, but because you desire the wisdom they are sharing even if you don’t agree. You listen because, maybe with their input, you might come to agree and learn from them! Your passion for wisdom and knowledge outweighs the biases and prejudices we all develop.

I had a friend describe working for me (I’m paraphrasing as it has been a while.)

“It’s hard to get your attention. But when you have your attention, its 100%. It can be a bit much.”

I may have gotten the wording wrong, but it was said by one of my true friends who has been there for me for over 20 years. I respect his opinion and I used his feedback to try to tone my presence down without turning down the attention with which I listen and speak.

Changes I made? Everything from changing my attire to be more casual even in business-suit-Houston and studying my own body posture when listening. Crossing my arms and looking down was my habit when listening deeply. It turns out not everyone interprets my posture for what it was; it came across as disapproving to some when it was in fact the exact opposite. So I changed. I learned to lean against a tree and nod my head, not always in agreement, but to acknowledge what they were saying. So when I say I took my friends feedback seriously, I mean it. I even read two more books on body language.

My reward for my changes? I get to learn more from more interesting people. I LOVE THAT!

Speaking and sharing knowledge

As they say, “the thing with introverts is that it is NOT that they don’t like to talk. It’s that they like to talk about things they are interested in.”

That of course is why we must listen first and learn about things we know nothing about without interrupting people, because that curiosity might uncover something new we are interested in. It is respectful to others. And learning is a lifelong endeavor – I have no intention to stop being curious or learning from others as long as I am breathing.

Avicii’s video for Wake Me Up really captures the loss if we fail to listen to our youth in particular (more after the jump).

2016. This is a unique time in history. Seriously.

Modern knowledge in the Internet age swirls around like a whirlpool, regardless of age, gender, nationality or some certificate on your wall. Degrees in my field for example are close to irrelevant. This amazing kindling of knowledge I am seeing is practically a cauldron  about to spill over for those not paying attention.

Example: you are likely to learn more from those younger than you this year than those older than you if you are over 40.

Youth of course has it’s own arrogance and may not want to learn from their elders because like EVERY generation they believe they know more. But they MUST have this arrogance or they won’t take risks, start companies, invent calculus,  and push our society forward. Still, they can learn from their elders. But only, only if they respect you first. And they are the future. So yes, if you are over 40, get off your high horse and earn THEIR respect even if when we were 20 it was our job to earn the respect of 40 year olds.

I have traditionally, and will continue to respectfully, listen to my elders by being fully present. To learn from their wisdom. Yet…..

I must observe that in the last six months in particular, I have learned more from carefully listening to people sometimes much younger than me. To give them the floor and listen deeply and respectfully.

If you listen, our youth from 5 to 20 are particularly generous with their knowledge. I am so grateful to my younger friends and acquaintances who “grok” that I am interested in what they are teaching me. That I am fully present and grateful to them for sharing their knowledge with me.

This respect is the same as how appreciative I am of my 70 or 80 year old friend who share with me. Tell me stories. It’s kind of awesome. People are people, we should not underestimate them regardless of age. 

The reward from these interchanges is truly priceless. Knowledge, respect, love, a human connection. Pay it forward in a time when knowledge is flying back and forth between all generations and cultures. It’s an exciting (and stressful) time to live. But definitely not boring, my friends!

For the curious ones out there, now is the time. Shut up and dance. Listen first. Be present. Be open minded.

Stories are the best way to share knowledge. Tell yours to those who are intently interested. And be interested in others and ask them to tell you their story. It’s a start. For example I know Alie will teach me to fire dance.

Fire dancing is something I will not do. But if asked, there is a possibility of zero that Alie would not share this knowledge with me. It is knowledge one question away from me. What a cool world we live in!

allie-fire-dancer-houston

Instead, I choose to photograph my friends, be present, listen to them, and learn what I can while wishing they would keep the fire farther away from me. (Even if my mantra is to move fast and break things.)

#peace

PS – Day job stuff. As the founder of Tendenci – The Open Source Membership Management Software project, these topics in sociology do apply very much to our vision. Systems of interaction can change behaviors (do you “like” or not click “like” on FB when a couple breaks up. It’s a serious question. Thus I value your feedback to make https://github.com/tendenci/tendneci/ even better for the open source community.)

human or systemic resistance to sharing knowledge

“The biggest impediment,” the commission warned, “is the human or systemic resitance to sharing information.” … “Intelligence should be processed… according to the same quality standards”

From “Garland terror case highlights intelligence-sharing impediments”, Houston Chronicle, June 8, 2015

Google “God in Houston” and you won’t find a church

In the process of explaining SEO (search engine optimization) over the years I frequently demonstrate that if you Google “God in Houston” the top results are not churches. Now I’m not talking about the local results that show the churches, but the actual search results below that that lists KSBJ as the top result for “God in Houston” when searched on Google. And the only paid search result is for “Houston Gold” – like the shiny stuff you make jewelry out of. Here is a screen shot:

From a technical perspective, this makes perfect sense. Because the largest churches in Houston do not mention the word “God” on their web sites. Yes really. Using a search engine keyword analyzer, a test of second.org shows the following.

Note the title is “Second Baptist Church, Houston, TX.” Thus they will likely rank for “Churches in Houston” but not for “God in Houston.” A simple fix would be to update the title to “Second Baptist Church, Serving God in Houston TX”.

I mention this because exactness of speech matters. It means that some of our largest churches have zero (0) possibility of being returned if a downtrodden person googles for them in the middle of the night. It means missed connections when a bible study group at a particular church might be the perfect connection for a fellow Houstonian. But we will never know because of a failure of exactness of speech.

On the flip side, a tip of the hat to Braeswood Assembly of God church which comes up for both the physical location and second natural ranking after KSBJ in the search results. And all because they mention the word “God” in their title.

So be specific. Be exact. And I’ll leave it to you to search for the ministers’ names – they rank a bit higher than God.

you can’t get that shot, but that shot was not the problem

Thoughts on excuses and accusations in leadership.

moss [[oak]menil]Back in College I played a lot of racquetball tournaments and played on the Texas A&M racquetball team. I also coached a few hours a week, sometimes kids, sometimes other students, at the local gyms in College Station Texas. Every once in a while when coaching a newbie who threw me a floater in the middle of the court I’d crush it down the line or do a nice splat. The student would invariably look at me as if I had done something wrong exclaiming:

How am I supposed to GET THAT!?!?! You killed it! I can’t get that!

My answer was always the same.

You can’t get that shot. Nobody can. But THAT shot was not the problem. It was the shot before where you set me up that was the problem. The kill shot was just the part that hurt. Identify the real cause before you howl in indignation. Now lets work on not setting your opponent up, OK?

Running a business over the years I have found that two commonly used fallacies by employees (and by me!) are post hoc and non sequitur. Both of which are Latin phrases and sound all funny to me. How do they relate to business?

Example: an employee is late day after day after day. You work with them. Go through the usual discipline rigmarole. Think thoughts like “wow, they need a parent not a manager.” And eventually the day comes when you hold them accountable. The response:

I was on a church retreat this weekend and overslept today. And if you put work over God that is YOUR problem not mine. You are way out of line to put work over God and family!

It’s important to remember that the employee in this scenario ACTUALLY BELIEVES what they are saying. At a human level it is a mind-blowingly insensitive accusation against a fellow human being, but that is besides the point. The catch here is that “it does not follow.” This particular day it is the presenting problem; the floating ball in the middle of the court. The real issue is that they are late day after day. The accusation that the manager is a heretic bound for hell is simply the presenting problem. You, the manager, did nothing wrong.

Yet the employee believes what they said!

In my experience there is only one solution. Educate them on fallacies and communication BEFORE they use them on you. It doesn’t always work, but at least it might. Education is the first step.  Because common fallacies are, well, common. Read on my fellow leaders, and cut yourself some slack. It really isn’t you. It was the shot where they set you up that caused the problem.

Don’t Sandwich Constructive Feedback Because People Aren’t Stupid

The “Sandwich Method” of feedback was the first method of constructive criticism I learned as a young manager right out of university. You know it – 1) say something positive then 2) give the constructive criticism and then 3) close with a positive statement. Example:

Mary, you are doing a great job on the ACME Products account. But I hear your project team missed the deadline for the latest ACME blog release and the client is upset. And by the way, your hair looks nice today!

bunnyIt is true that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. The difference between the analogy of “sugar and medicine” and “sandwich feedback” is that medicine is “a” – not a person, “b” – good for your current illness only and “c” – not a long term human relationship. So with all of my focus on candor and directness for competitive business advantage, why then do I fall back to sandwich feedback methods?

Because the sandwich method is mostly about the person giving the feedback. It’s easier to give feedback in a sandwich because although you know you have to give the feedback, it is hard to give negative feedback. So the path of least resistance is to say nothing about an employee who is late. You say nothing until all of the other employees come to the conclusion the late employee is your favorite who gets paid to do less and can get away with anything. Silence indicts the leader.

One step up from ignoring the issue is the ineffective sandwich method. The domain of the partially courageous.

Why is the sandwich method of giving feedback so bad? Because people aren’t stupid. That’s right – if you work with stupid people you can probably use it forever. But it does NOT work with smart people. The authors of Absolute Honesty explain it this way:

people aren’t stupid and if you always deliver feedback in a sandwich, they start to realize that the purpose of the message is the zinger in the middle. They then start doubting your truthfulness about any of the good things when you tell them because they’re always wondering when the zinger will come.

and

Not that there is anything wrong with acknowledging someone’s strengths when giving feedback – we just think it’s better to avoid making a sandwich and get to the point. – pg 91

and

Experience has shown us that, when giving criticism, the direct approach is the best as long as it’s given in an environment where positive feedback is abundant. – pg 92

To repeat, if you use the sandwich method of giving feedback then people will ignore the good things you say waiting for the negative. And they think of you as a minor league liar for saying positive things you probably don’t believe (even if you do!). So get to the point. Give lots of positive feedback on a daily basis. But when giving negative feedback say it and move on. And keep it discrete from positive feedback.

“You need fast dialog and fast conversation to get at the mission. Candor.” – Jack Welch 2005, Houston Forum

and

“From the day I joined GE to the day I was named CEO, twenty years later, my bosses cautioned me about my candor. I was labeled abrasive and consistently warned my candor would soon get in the way of my career. … and I’m telling you that it was candor that helped make it work.” – Jack Welch, Winning, Pg 34

And in closing – candor is the way to move up in a competitive organization. Especially one fighting off the great recession. Not rudeness mind you, but honest candor where you respectfully call things the way you see them. You don’t waste time with sandwich feedback loops so folks know you are honest. By speaking directly you are treating people respectfully. People believe your compliments and they respect your feedback. Honest.

Tribal Citizenship Behavior

When a crisis occurs, like a hurricane hits your city or the country freaks out about the swine flu, part of a leaders job is to protect the tribe. To do that, the people have to be prepared. The first priority must then be to make sure every member of the tribe is prepared to take care of their family. Katrina made this concept clear:

The New Orleans police chief says some of his officers may still be trapped in their homes and he’s not sure how many walked off the job.

Walk off the job? Police!? Obviously family comes first. Or people won’t show up to work no matter how critical their job is because no job is more important than your family. Step one is to have everyone develop an “in case of emergency preparedness family plan“.

Assuming someone is prepared as best they can be, then what makes them a “team player” as they say. Well, as usual, “they” is wrong in that the phrase “team player” is like comparing the word “violin” to “Stradivarius”. What you REALLY want from your tribe members, peers, friends, etc, whether you know it or not, is far more nuanced that the phrase “team player” suggests. You want someone who is “cool with the tribe” and supports you ALL!

caroline-tribeA bit of research led me to the Distributive, Procedural and Interactive Justice scales by Niehoff & Moorman. If they weren’t academics they would call it a way to quantify employee satisfaction. But that isn’t really what I am after. More digging made me realize that the academics call what I am after, perhaps theirs is more narrow in scope, but they call it “Organizational Citizenship Behavior.” This criticism of Organizational Citizenship Behavior questions if good OCB is in fact in the best interest of the organization! But I’ll leave that to another day. For now OCB is comprised of four elements (from the above link):

OCB has four separate, but related behavior elements that differ in their target and direct objective.  It is believed that the indirect objective of all OCB is the benefit of organizational goals (Organ, 1988).  In a theoretical typology developed by Graham (1989; Moorman & Blakely, 1995; Moorman, Blakely, Niehoff, 1998) OCB categorizes into four types:

  1. personal industry,
    1. (the extent to which an individual performs tasks beyond the call of duty.  Employees who spontaneously work overtime, put in extra hours on a project, or volunteer to take on new projects are engaging in personal industry.)
  2. loyal boosterism,
    1. (the promotion of firm image to outsiders.  An employee that spontaneously compliments his employer to a member of another firm, a friend, or any stakeholder displays loyal boosterism behavior.)
  3. individual initiative,
    1. (communicating with others in the organization to improve individual and group performance) and
  4. inter-personal helping.
    1. (An employee, recognizing that a co-worker might benefit from possession of a piece of information, such as a sales contact, technical information, or market tip, and passing on such information without the other asking for it)

and

To summarize, OCB consist of non-obligatory, informally influenced behaviors.

I translate that last part to say what OCB is referring to, is stuff you do to help the organization that isn’t in your job description. It’s the stuff that makes life pleasant, like buying a Nerf Gun refill pack for your unarmed co-worker to make cubicles-war “fair” again. That stuff.

I think what I’m looking for is really a Tribal Citizenship Behavior index. With the definition of tribe being more loosely defined than just the employees of a company. A tribe that has even low clustering coefficients – meaning loosely bound.

Anthropologist Michel Maffesoli appears to have coined the term Neo-Tribalism which Wikipedia defines as:

Neotribalism is the ideology that human beings have evolved to live in a tribal, as opposed to a modern, society, and thus cannot achieve genuine happiness until some semblance of tribal lifestyles has been re-created or re-embraced.

Tribes are not organizations, at least in the context of OCB as I understand it. An easy example; in tribes people have distinct roles including that of the cynic who provides constant creative tension. Yet the cynic DOES add value in times of crisis because they foresee the need for batteries, chain saws, and medical masks before a crisis. While not wildly popular perhaps, they fix the weakest link in a tribe at specific times. Maybe a score of 5/10 on a day-to-day basis on the OCB scale, but a 10/10 for Tribal Citizenship Behavior when the *&@#! hits the fan! This need to remain loosely joined (a clustering coefficient closer to zero) quickly snaps back into place during a crisis (a clustering coefficient closer to 1 – we ALL know the guy with the generator after a Hurricane!).

I’ll keep thinking about this (of course) but I wanted to highlight two other concepts from OCB that we can borrow for TCB are dominant coalitions and technological change as a tribe restructuring catalyst:

Dominant Coalitions

A dominant coalition consists of the network of individuals within and around an organization that most influence the mission and goals of the organization (Cyert & March, 1963).  In theory, the goals of an organization flow from the chief executive officer, board of directors, or top management team.  However, the dominant coalition maintains an influence on goals through informal, rather than formal, channels.

When it comes to social media, public relations and tribal behavior, you have a unique problem. It is considered “uncool” to call yourself a “Social Media Expert“. And indeed like any other trend that goes mainstream, every new kid on the block joins in when their last trendy business dries up and becomes an “expert”. I overheard a conversation the other day that was “I didn’t follow her back (on twitter) because her description said ‘social media expert’ and she only had 22 followers!”. I wouldn’t have followed back either so I am part of the problem in a way.

The point is the “cool kids find it cool to deny being cool.” Or, the dominant coalitions in tribal citizenship behavior deny being influencers in the first place.

which ties into technology as follows

A technological change within an organization may provide the impetus for power changes within the organization.  Burkhardt and Brass (1990) studied the introduction of a new computer technology into a governmental agency.  They found that early adopters of the technology gained a significant amount of informal power in the organization, which could be used to join or enhance one’s membership in the dominant coalition.  Thus, such changes in technology could result in altered membership in the dominant coalition.

Or “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.” If this premise is true it not only changes the complexion of the dominant coalitions and the tribe itself, but it is a biased change. By that I mean tech people are more introverted than extroverted, more logical than mathematical, tend towards aspergers, etc… In other words a different personality type has joined the dominant coalition. Perhaps a good thing! But a change to be noted regardless.

In conclusion, Tribal Citizenship Behavior (TCB, heh) can borrow heavily from Organizational Citizenship Behavior. Like OCB we can borrow personal industry, loyalty, initiative, people helping people.  We can try to measure dominant coalitions in a tribe. Measure intention which is always critical. But these aren’t enough because a tribe may not have a stated goal like an organization, beyond preservation of the tribe. Which, again, is why we start by personal emergency planning.

More posts on the topic of Tribal Citizenship Behavior as my thoughts evolve. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic?