I write a lot about leadership and management, and I have been concerned that in the current environment the act of management is getting nearly impossible. Fear not! I have an idea. When all is said and done, we know that effective leadership and management depend on open and honest communication. And when you get down to the nuts and bolts of relationships, aren’t they supposed to be anchored to honesty and respect? After all, whether we are at work or hanging out with friends, we want to be around people who value us for who we are, right?
But therein lies the rub.
How do we have honest, sincere discussions without offending the other person? Can we even have a difference of opinion anymore? I was talking about this with a coworker who pointed me to a guy named Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and bestselling author who explores the science of motivation. And though I had the idea, he put the concept in words far better than I can. Unfortunately the advice must be internalized to be effective.
He talks about being open-minded, and I can go on about that for a bit, and I do not necessarily agree that we need to be open-minded. In my opinion, we need to use our intellect to discern the truth. To me, being open-minded means that everything goes in, including garbage. That is not good. We should have our foundation of truth and determine whether what we are being provided fits into the model of truth. If it does not, research it before you adopt it. But I digress.
What I think Grant means is that we need to be able to engage in a dialogue. No, a real dialogue. Meaning I am willing to hear what you say, and you are willing to hear what I say, even if we disagree. Don’t close yourself off just because you don’t necessarily agree. So, to my point I’ll quote Grant: “Don’t let your ideas become your identity.” Read that again. (Do it!) I believe that is at the heart of what is happening to our society these days.
We are replacing our humanity with our opinions, and we allow them to define us. If someone challenges the opinions we hold, it becomes a threat to our identity and a threat to our integrity. And soon enough, we need our opinions to reflect society otherwise we become threatened by society. And that is an incredibly dangerous path to follow. Have you ever heard of zombies?
Maintain your curiosity. Retain a healthy skepticism. To quote Grant again, “If you define yourself by your opinions, questioning them is a threat to your integrity. If you see yourself as a curious person or a lifelong learner, changing your mind is a moment of growth.”
If you find yourself walking on eggshells around your friends, coworkers, or employees, take a moment to figure out why. And if you find yourself getting offended by something someone says, reflect on that and ask yourself if you are allowing your opinions to define who you are.
So bringing it home, if we understand the challenge, we can begin to solve it. As you are managing your staff, take small steps to re-establish healthy conversation. Pay attention to the people you are interacting with and notice if they are getting uneasy. Try to discern if they think you are attacking them. If so, maybe you can help them see that you are not attacking them personally, you are trying to engage them to examine assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors that impact the relationship you have and the work they perform.