For those of you who have started to believe you've been trapped in an alternative universe since the 2016 Presidential election, where up has become down and down has become up, WAKE UP! In spite of what some elected officials and those who surround them would have you believe, facts do matter! Journalist Dan Rather addressed this issue recently when he wrote, “The reality is we don't live in a post-truth world because if we did, almost every aspect of modern society would cease to exist - immediately. So, the fact that we seem to be heading into that world in politics is not only deeply troubling, it has the potential to upend life as we know it.”
It’s been said that if you repeat a lie enough times, people will start to believe it’s true. With the Internet being flooded with bogus news stories, a recent study found that the top five fake news stories shared on Facebook were seen by more people than the top five factual news stories reported by traditional media. Thousands of people were convinced by a fake news story that a pedophilia ring involving people at the highest levels of the Democratic Party was operating out of a Washington DC pizza restaurant. The story went viral on Twitter - nearly a million messages were sent in November using the term "pizzagate". Then on December 5th, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch traveled 6 hours from his home in North Carolina to DC and walked into the pizza restaurant with a rifle saying he was there to “self-investigate” the alleged sex ring. After pointing the rifle at an employee who escaped, and firing a round into the floor, he was arrested by police. We used to snicker when conspiracy theorists said that the USA moon landing was staged on a sound studio in Los Angeles. They were chalked up to having a screw loose. However, today, millions of people believed, with no evidence, that a presidential candidate was running a porn ring out of a pizza parlor. This isn’t just a difference in political opinion, it’s the suspension of reality in the Twilight Zone. In the spirit of stripping away all political correctness, if you believed or shared this story, you were dangerously irresponsible or have a screw loose. Now, the President of the United States is convientely taking cover behind "Fake News" claims to try and hide true stories that have persipitated bi-party investigations in both the House and Senate and an independent investigation of a special council initiated by the President's own Justice Department.
There are a number of disturbing trends that have contributed to the dangerous path we are speeding down. One is the gullibility of, what otherwise seem to be, rational people when it comes to believing anything that supports their opinion, without an ounce of critical thinking. During a time when information is available at the push of a button, most people are unwilling to fact check the simplest piece of information. This during a time when resources like Google, Snopes, PolitiFact and a number of other Internet resources are available to tell you if the facts of a story are true or not and if the author has a political agenda that would reflect bias. Dan Rather explains, “One thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that often when people say facts are facts—they're not really facts….. and the duplicitous media outlets that have echoed the lies without question.” When you can make up stories that support your own agenda and the institutions that are meant to hold you accountable don’t, society engages in a delusion that is extremely dangerous. This is compounded when the media does expose the lie and the liar tries to discredit the media as biased and unfair. The best advice here is the age old adage… “Don’t kill the messenger!” The truth is not arbitrary. It’s not something that can be conveniently adapted to meet your comfort level. A lie is a lie is a lie and the facts are the facts. Of course, we can argue about the application of different facts in relation to each other. However, you can’t lie and then lie about not lying. If the only way you can justify your lies is to become delusional about what you said, we’ve all got a big problem.
John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.” A polite way of saying that many people are intellectually lazy. He also observed, ““Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everybody gets busy on the proof.” This is a scary indictment of all of us, if it’s true, that we are so invested in our own opinions that we are unwilling to openly look at the facts and opposing points of view to shape our positions on an issue. As Rather puts it…. “If people want to live in a post-truth world, where "elite" experts are all biased and facts are up for interpretation, I suggest they go all the way.
You can go to a post-truth doctor who could say "Well, the elitist scientific tests say you have strep throat but I say it's cancer so let's give you some chemotherapy…. “The reality is that all of modern society, from the way your cell phone hooks up to your wi-fi, to the way the rain funnels into the storm drain, to the way your freezer keeps your ice cream frozen, is based on facts. It's because smart people, who went to school and learned facts, collaborated to figure things out. And they wrote them down so that other people would know those facts and be able to build on them. That's how science works. That's how technology works. That's how modernity works.” It doesn’t mean that if you don’t have a college education you’re not smart. However, it does mean that if you ignore the facts that competent, smart people agree upon, you are ignorant!
In business, what is the message to people that have to manage the way they communicate research, policies, visions, positions, performance reviews, goals and objectives to other people? It’s quite simple. Facts matter! They will lead you and the people you influence to the truth. It’s one of the first things we learned as children, “Don’t lie!” Remember the stories about George Washington and Honest Abe? While the irony of the factual nature of these stories is not lost on us, neither is the impact of the message that we learned as a child. It confirms what we have learned as a management consultants. While lying may get you a pass by those who already support you, those that are not already sold will be alienated even more by the falsehood you try to pass off as fact. In order to work with, lead or motivate people, you need to build a consensus of support, not just a plurality. One of the most valuable assets a person can possess is integrity. It’s hard to build and easy to lose. Once lost, it’s next to impossible to rebuild. If you want people to listen to you, your words need to be considered credible. “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.” – Albert Einstein
In my last blog, I talked about expanding your leadership skills by exploring different ideas and principles of leadership in books, articles, blogs, videos and seminars. You need to constantly challenge yourself by exposing yourself to new ideas and principles in order to improve your leadership skills. That’s the first secret of leadership, recognize that you don’t know everything there is to know. The more a wise person learns, the less they think they know. If you’re not willing to open your mind to new thoughts and ideas, there’s little or no hope for personal growth. In some cases, you may be exposing yourself to an idea that you already accept. That’s ok, we need repetition for ideas to sink in so we can make them our own. But, that’s only the first step.
We all have attended a seminar or read a book that exposed us to new ideas or concepts that intrigued us. With a little thought and analysis, we came to accept them, in principle. We came to an intellectual acceptance of the idea(s).
I have conducted numerous workshops where people accepted what I was saying. I could see heads nodding and participants said all the right things that indicated they understood and agreed with me. But, I knew that was only the second step. Intellectual agreement is different than emotional agreement. We all intellectually agree that we should eat healthy and exercise for better health. However, how many of us emotionally agree enough to put those principles into action? Many people attend a seminar and get really excited. This excitement may last for a day or two or maybe even a week. Then, as the reality of their daily lives creeps back into their awareness, they put the book or seminar notes on the shelf and get back to doing things the way they’ve always done them.
The final step of becoming a better leader is to test, practice and use the new ideas and principles you learn. It may even mean that you put into practice all those ideas you’ve professed that you believe in. In other words, it’s time to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Ideas, concepts and philosophy are meaningless unless they become observable behavior change. Be careful though, we have a tendency to judge others based on their actions and ourselves based on our intentions. Intentions, all too often, become excuses or rationalizations. We rationalize why we didn’t exercise today or why we screamed, yelled at and abused that employee instead of applying those coaching skills we said we believed would be more effective.
There you have it. To become a more effective leader, it’s important that you have an open mind and willingness to expose yourself to new ideas and concepts. Next, you must have an intellectual agreement with a concept you believe in. Finally, that belief was be translated into concrete, observable behavior.
Next time, we’ll explore some leadership concepts you might want to consider. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts and comments. Contact me here or on Twitter @JoeDBuys
People’s perceptions create their own reality and their behaviors are driven by this reality. People then act in a way they perceive to be in their own best self-interest, as they preceive.
The good news is, if we know these facts, they can help us better understanding each other. If we take the time to determine the motivating perceptions that mold someone’s reality, we can begin to communicate with them more effectively. Imagine the possibilities if everyone began to develop a better understanding of the people in their personal and professional lives. What If politicians really understood the motivating perceptions of their constituents and colleagues? What if nations understood how to reduce tensions and share their needs and interests so they could solve their differences? How much of a difference would it make?
The difficulty is that what I’m saying is no secret and yet people continue to make the same mistakes over and over. We intellectually understand that people are different. We intellectually understand that their perceptions of reality are influenced by their age, gender, race, nationality, religion, socio-economic status and life experiences. However, on an emotional level, it confuses us that other people don’t think like we do. After all, we are intelligent, rational people that see life and the world clearly. Our reality must be the true reality. So, when we’re talking about a hypothetical situation or one in which we have no emotional investment, we can intellectually agree that people have an understandable difference in perception that influences their reality. On the other hand, it becomes much more difficult when we have an emotional investment in an issue and our reality is in conflict with someone else’s.
The skill that enables us to navigate these difficult waters is called empathy. First, it’s important to define what empathy means. Many people confuse sympathy, which means, “an inclination to support or to agree with an opinion” with empathy which means, to develop an understanding and even feel another’s feelings, that contribute to an opinion. Empathy validates the right for another person to have their opinion, even though you may not agree with it.
Let me give you one example of what I’m talking about. Early in my career, I read an article in U.S. News and World Report about capital punishment. At the end of the article, it asked for readers to send in their opinions about the subject. I submitted my opinion, opposing capital punishment. In the next month’s issue, my opinion appeared along with several others. A week later, I received a letter in the mail from a father whose pregnant daughter had been killed in a brutal murder where her baby had been literally cut from her womb. The letter was angry and viciously attacked me personally and my position. I could feel the pain and emotion that jumped off the page with each word. He called me names I won’t reprint here, and hoped that my daughter would fall to the same fate as his so I would know his loss.
It would have been natural for me to have been offended by the personal attacks. Instead, I felt the pain that he must have felt. I had two young daughters who would one day grow up, get married and have their own children. I couldn’t imagine losing either one in such a brutal, meaningless way. I could empathize with his position and understand how he could support capital punishment. It didn’t change my position of opposing capital punishment but I fully understood his. His life experience strongly influenced his perception of reality. In his reality, capital punishment was not only justifiable, it was mandatory for him to cope with an event that defied a rational mind.
Of course, the point is not about the merits of Capital Punishment. The point is, that in almost any situation, no matter how strongly you believe in your reality, there is someone else who believes just as strongly in theirs. Have you every been at a football game when they played our National Anthem and you got a lump in your throat as you saw a formation of jets fly over the stadium? Perhaps at the Olympic games you watched as an American athlete stood on the gold medal podium as the Star Spangled Banner was played and our flag was raised. Remember the sense of pride that you felt? There are people in stadiums all over the world, with the same sense of pride, listening to their national anthem being played or their athletes wining a gold medal. If you want to communicate with them, in any meaningful way, you must be able to empathize with them. There is a process that will help you do just that.
Give Them Your Attention
First, you must focus on the person you’re talking with, giving them your total and undivided attention. The natural reaction when we’re talking with someone, especially about something where we disagree, is to be thinking about what we’re going to say next. We’re formulating our argument in our mind while they’re talking. This defeats the purpose of listening, in general, and empathy, in particular. Stop and really listen to what’s being said.
Keep An Open Mind
One of two things will happen if you listen with an open mind. You’ll either learn something that may influence your own position or you’ll learn something about the person you’re talking to that will help you understand them better. John Kenneth Galbraith once said that, “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof”. There is unsettling research that indicates it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find people who are willing to consider even the most trusted facts to alter their position. Johnathan Haidt’s new book, The Righteous Mind, discusses this in detail.
Many people are uncomfortable with a pause in the conversation. They start to finish another person’s sentence or will take over the conversation. Many people think while they talk and use a pause to consider something that’s been said to formulate an opinion. Don’t become impatient with these pauses. Allow someone the time to talk at their own pace, not yours.
To truly find out how someone feels about a subject and why they feel that way, ask questions that are non threatening and designed to help them open up and speak freely. This is not the time to ask questions like a prosecutor. It’s the time to ask questions with child-like curiosity. Let the person know that you’re truly interested in what they have to say. This is also not the time to share how you feel about the subject. Your sole purpose is find out how someone feels and why they feel that way.
Repeat The Speaker’s Thoughts
There’s an old saying… “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant”. By repeating back or paraphrasing the Speaker’s thoughts to them, you make sure that you have understood what they meant to say. It also helps to validate the other person by letting them know that you’re really listening.
Listen For Facts And Key Words
Listen for words or phrases that may give you a hint to the speaker’s feelings and emotions on the subject. They may also be a clue to underlying concerns or perspectives that may be influencing their opinion that even they may not be aware of. I was having a discussion with an employee of a client about youth hockey programs. He was very animated and opinionated about how parents get too involved and interfere with the kids learning and enjoyment. It was difficult to figure out where his perspective came from. Then, while talking about the coaches of youth hockey, he used the word “we” once. Hearing that, I knew at once that he was speaking as a coach and was expressing his frustration with parents from that perspective. Watch body language, too, to see if the individual is giving you non-verbal clues that will contribute to your understanding of their perspective.
Never Criticize or Attack
When you’re listening to someone with empathy, you have to be very careful that the person doesn’t feel attacked or under any pressure. If they do, they will shut down and you will never find out how they feel. This is particularly true if there is a reporting relationship to you or someone you report to. The other reason for not attacking someone’s opinion is that you will have no chance in influencing that opinion if the person you’re trying to influence feels attacked. How willing are you to listen to someone after they have discounted your opinion by refusing to listen to you and not trying to understand your position?
Be careful, because you can attack someone’s opinion without even realizing it. The person you’re talking to states an opinion and you say, “Yes, but don’t you think that……… ” and offer an alternative for them to consider. That may not seem like an attack, because we’re so used to doing it. however, what you’re really saying to them is that, “I heard what you said but I don’t agree and I’m sure if you’ll consider this alternative, you’ll change your position”. That may be an appropriate question to ask at a different point in the discussion, but not now. When you’re trying to empathize with someone, you are in service of them in an effort to build rapport and understand reality from their point of view.
In conclusion, perhaps Abraham Lincoln put it best. “If you want to win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend…. Assume to dictate to his judgement, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself… You shall no more be able to pierce him, than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.”
Until the next time.........
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently – they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones that do.” ……… Steve Jobs
Have you ever looked at a new product that has become wildly popular, yet was so simple in concept and design that you said "Why didn’t our company think of that?” Perhaps one of your competitors has opened a new market that no one in your industry thought was available. Has your team gotten bogged down, missing deadlines, in delivering a new product, service or process. Every time someone at your company suggests a change to policies, processes or goals they’re shut down with the statement, “We’ve always done it this way. There’s no need to change”.
Which brings us to the question of why innovation is so important: it solves problems today in a way that positions you to address the unforeseen problems and opportunities of tomorrow. the world is becoming increasingly competitive. Today, you produce a product, you try to patent it, but within about six months somebody … some company has produced something pretty close and they worked around your patents as well. The only way to respond to a situation like that is to be relentlessly innovative. Only companies that constantly challenge what they do, challenge themselves to come up with new and different ways of doing things, and also constantly improve on things that they already do will survive in this new globally competitive environment.*
Unfortunately, innovation doesn’t just happen in organizations unless they create an atmosphere and culture that encourages it. Employees who don’t think they’re creative must be trained in skills that will open up their minds and imagination to new and exciting solutions. All of this means that to thrive in today’s rapidly changing competitive environment, companies have no option but to learn how to innovative.
*Here is a great example of what we’re talking about, an innovative way to promote Diversity and inclusion in society: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PnDgZuGIhHs
Until the next time……