Archives for the Month of August, 2012

Up in the Air

Vital Encounters

I am waiting for a flight in a busy airport lounge. I look up and notice an elderly  gentleman. I smile. He smiles back. I notice there are two glasses on the table in front of him. I decide to strike up a conversation.

“Where are you travelling to?” I ask. “We’re on a world tour,” he says. “My wife and I are retired,” he explains.

Being generally puzzled by humanity and our relationship with work, I ask, “What did you do before you retired?”

“I served as a judge,” he replies with a benevolent smile.

By now I realise I’m onto something vital and so I ask him another question that puzzles me further still.

“You must have encountered people from many different walks of life,” I say.

Then I decide to go ahead and ask the million dollar question.

“From all you have seen, do you think human beings are fundamentally good?” I ask.

“I have seen human beings capable of great kindness in very difficult circumstances,” he replies. I look him in the eye and there isn’t a hint of cynicism, only goodwill.

It turns out this elderly gentleman was a judge for 30 years. Our conversation reminds me of one I have with my teams.

In my role as Agile Coach, when teams fail, one of the most common explanations I hear from the team is this: “They don’t trust us enough. That’s why we haven’t delivered any working software for so long.”

My reply to such an explanation is filled with the same inquisitiveness in my conversation with the elderly judge and it is this: “How trustworthy are you and how much trust have you shown these people to whom you refer as ‘they’?”

Personal Practice: The Art of Asking and Listening

Imagine. You woke up this morning and instead of following Alice down the rabbit hole, you decide to hang out with Socrates. You know, the wise guy who taught people how to think for themselves by asking questions.

What you didn’t realise when you got out of bed this morning is that there’s something different about you today. Instead of the usual ‘telling people what to do and what to think’, you discover that you can only ask questions. And, when asking questions is inappropriate, the only alternative is to listen.

At first, you manage this new way of communicating for only 10 minutes. Gradually, you extend it to an hour.

What do you notice about the quality of conversations you’re having in comparison with your usual way of communicating? And what about the differences in the level of engagement you’re getting from those you usually interact with?

My grandmother used to say, “There’s a reason why we have two ears and one mouth.”

Ask questions. Listen lots. Help people answer their own questions and may be they’ll help answer yours.