I Like to Lie a Lot

“What one does is what counts. Not what one had the intention of doing.” - Pablo Picasso

I was having one of those afternoon “summer jam” kind of days; driving down the road with the music blasting and my sunroof open. Admittedly, I wasn’t cool enough for vintage Metallica or Led Zeppelin IV. No, I was a 40+ year old man checking out Ed Sheeran’s album, X. On it, he has a song called "Don’t." I was really intrigued with the lyrics the very first time I heard it. I think we all have the propensity to enjoy a good break-up song now and then, and for me, this was one of those moments. The lyrics are pretty cutting. The chorus especially got my attention…

A few days later, my wife Kristine was in the car with me. My new favorite song came on. So, I turned it up and subjected her to a few bars of my terrible falsetto as I sang along. The chorus kicked in and I belted out, “I like to lie a lot!” She started to chuckle and asked me, "What did you just sing?" I turned down the radio and simply said the words this time. Kristine quickly corrected me and said, “I don’t think those are the lyrics. I think he’s singing...Ah...lamlahlah.” Of course, I got defensive and asked, “Why would those be the lyrics?! The whole song is about a lying woman so maybe he’s saying he likes to lie a lot because a) he’s either lying about her story or b) she likes to lie a lot and is a dirty cheat!” This debate lasted a few days. Later, we confirmed that Kristine was in fact correct.

It’s funny how one line in a song could change the whole meaning or intent. And for whatever reason, that's what happened to me with this song. It’s not funny, however, when the same type of thing happens in the workplace, is it?

Sometimes we are certain someone said something or had some specific intent - and it causes us to spiral for a few hours or even days.

Have you experienced something similar? Have you ever been in a meeting where you are sure your archrival took a jab after you gave a team or project update? Or what about an email from an internal stakeholder who made some comment that sounds like an attack on your follow-through skills and work quality? How about a “fly-by” critique provided by a boss as (s)he was running to another meeting? How many times have misunderstood communications disrupted your good chi?

As a human being, I've misinterpreted people's words, too...and often. As a leader, I’ve mediated such disputes. And as a consultant, I’m already coaching clients through similar situations. It’s amazing how much time and energy is wasted on common misunderstandings.

Here's the thing: measuring intent is impossible. And at the same time, when someone says something, it takes great discipline to accept it for what it is. Unfortunately, tone and word choice can cast an ugly cloud, which prevents us from seeing the full picture. Psychologists have proven that judging intentions is fruitless given the fact that most people don’t even understand their own motivations. However, there is a lot of scientific research which reminds us past behavior is the single best predictor of future behavior.

Said another way, judging actions is more effective than judging intentions.

But before you start tallying up how many times your archrival has "slashed your tires in the parking lot," let me share a powerful tip. I once had a boss who used to say,

“Objectivity is lethal.”

For me, this was such great advice. In my professional life, the more I can be objective about a situation or keep a situation focused on objective criteria, the easier it is to build trust and followership. I won’t lie - it's sometimes difficult and requires effort. I find though that by repeating that line ("objectivity is lethal") in my head when I’m starting to judge intent and tone, it helps tremendously.

Now that I’m finished with this blog, it’s time to jump back into summer jams. I still think, “I like to lie a lot,” is a better chorus. Next song to figure out: “Blinded by the Light" by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. "Wrapped up like a…” What are they saying?!?

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Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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Frankly, It’s Personal

"We have now committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life." Edwin Markham

This past week, I attended a couple of conferences and heard a few stories I'm still struggling to comprehend—some real gut-wrenching stuff. They're the kind of things you hear or read about that can quickly result in a loss of faith in Corporate America.

These stories took me back to an experience I had a number of years ago when the .COM bubble busted. I was working for a startup which had the backing of a large financial services company. They relocated me and my family to Denver, as well as 15 other team members and their families from around the country. I was so excited to be a part of the .COM startup world and was willing to do whatever it took to succeed. After only a few months in our new surroundings, all hell broke loose in the market ... and we all lost our jobs. The timing was pretty poor as HR people from the sponsor company unexpectedly came in from another state and gave us pink slips on February 14th. Talk about a Happy Valentine's Day!

As my teammates and I were trying to make sense of the timing and deal with the shock of what transpired, one of the HR managers unemotionally stated, "Don't take it personally." She delivered this message with about as much sensitivity as a toll collector telling me I owed fifty cents on the turnpike.

Later in my career, when I was a young executive, I am embarrassed to say I leveraged a similar tactic. Just as we tend to repeat behaviors of our parents and teachers, I was "corporately raised" to believe this: when the going gets tough, tell your team members to not take it personally. Occasionally, I would even stretch this sentiment with a remark like, "Now, don't be so emotional." Pathetic, I know.

Thankfully, it didn't take me long to realize how utterly ridiculous it was to use such language or have such a belief. First, I know how I felt on that fateful day, when I lost my job. I was devastated and demoralized. Second, if I were honest with myself, despite my thick skin I’ve received hurtful feedback from time to time—all because it was poorly communicated. So, how could I expect my team members to separate their personal and professional feelings, when I couldn't do it myself? The answer: I couldn’t.

As I've shared before, when team members love a brand, they attract customers and other team members who love the brand. If they only like a brand, they will attract customers and other team members who only like the brand. And I believe when team members hate a brand, they will only lose customers and fellow team members who grow to hate it, too. I know I'm being Captain Obvious when I say the actions of leaders influence how team members feel about a brand.

Leadership requires an expression of care and concern for people's feelings. Frankly, it is personal. As human beings, we have one mind; one heart—and they're processing work emotions, as well as non-work emotions. I know of no biological ability which compartmentalizes a boss' insensitivity from other negative experiences you have outside the workplace. Negativity in our personal and professional lives hurts the same.

The same holds true for our interactions with other team members. Expecting they shouldn't take things personally is a terrible excuse for unloading a bunch of feedback or doing something which would make a Buckingham Palace guard cry.

When we're no longer on this planet, people won't remember us for the things we did; they'll remember us for the quality of our relationships. What are you doing to build and nurture the relationships you have with your teammates? Do you ever find yourself suggesting to people they shouldn't take things personally at work? What do you think it would do for your own career and performance if everyone realized, it actually is personal? For me, it was a game changer.

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Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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