Monday, 1 October 2012

What's in your heart? - doing my best with the information available

Last week, I said something during a discussion with a group of leaders, which received a stunning response.

We had been discussing the issue of employee engagement and the subject of one person in particular had come up.  As the discussion continued, frustration at the person's behaviour and the situation that led to them being employed was evident and abundant.  The descriptions of the person in question became more hostile, more disparaging as the conversation proceeded.

Listening to the conversation, it would have been easy to conclude that the person in question was the worst kind of person, perhaps the very personification of badness.  The group decided that a conversation with her was necessary.  With this, I agreed, but I was very concerned about the purpose of the conversation and the mindset of the people approaching this other person.

I asked the group what they knew about this person.  Their responses confirmed their view of her: lazy, self-absorbed, hard to get on with, not a good fit, no one likes her.  I repeated my question, "What do you KNOW about this person?"  I received some puzzled looks and then I received the same answers.  With every answer, I threw back a challenge - "how do you KNOW that she is lazy?" and so on.  The group quietened.

I posed some more questions.

"If your view of this person is that no one likes her, what's your mindset as you talk to her and work with her?"  The silence was deafening.  The faces looked guilty.

"You view her as lazy.  Has anyone provided feedback about her work performance? Has anyone had a conversation with her about what's expected of her?"

I made a suggestion, framed as a question:  "Is it possible that this woman is just like you?  That she's doing the best she can with the information she has available?  What would happen if you had this as your mindset when you approach her?"

The group looked uneasy, then thoughtful.  Then they breathed.  When I heard that breath I knew I had made a breakthrough.

One of the most vocal dissenters in the group then surprised me by thanking me for what I had said.  He sat there with his arms folded and the same slightly arrogant look on his face and prefaced his remarks by saying he wasn't sure how what he was going to say would come across.  I braced myself.

"That's the most intelligent thing I've heard you say over the last day and a half."

I smiled and said "thank you".  He felt the need to explain some more, but I already knew what he meant.  He's another story.

It may be that the employee who was the subject of this discussion is not well suited to her work.  It may be that there are some performance issues and she won't make it.  Perhaps she doesn't fit in.  But at least now there is a chance for people to face each other honestly and with good intentions in their hearts.

I do truly believe that most people are doing their best, most of the time.  I didn't always believe that.  Sometimes I was guilty of thinking that I was doing better or more or was more pure of heart than other people.  It's been such a good thing to change this perception and bring a more constructive and generous mindset to my dealings with others.

What's in your heart when you talk to other people?  What's your mindset? Do you think the best of people?

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