You know who I’m talking about: they clip their nails at their desk, they air out their smelly feet right next to you, they lick the lid of their Tupperware container in a lunch meeting, they seem to know nothing about personal buffer zones.
Like me I am sure you have been to more than one dinner party where you’ve heard people complaining about a colleague who simply drives them nuts.
It’s a problem that comes back time and time again because people are people and gosh darn it we’re sensitive creatures… well except for “those guys”, right?
Sometimes, we can’t put our finger on why someone really irritates us. Sometimes, we could make a list a mile long.
Does our tendency to find some people around us very irritating make us bad people? No, it makes us very human. The question is, what we can do about it?
When I was kid, I never aspired to be the leader. I was quite happy to not to be the kid who got to choose all the players for the pick-up soccer game at recess.
I’m not sure why. Maybe I was shy, maybe it’s because I wore glasses that could have been props in Revenge of the Nerds, or I didn’t fit into my view of what I thought a leader should look like: muscular, square-jawed, cape, tights and a cool utility belt.
I never liked sitting in the front row or raising my hand first for something. I always liked to assess the situation before diving in. This strategy worked very well for me. Very well, that is, until I became a drummer.
Once I started, I was addicted to how great it felt - the power, the physicality - but what I didn’t expect from drumming is what it would teach me about leadership.
Like many of you this time of year, I just got back from a summer holiday. I hope yours was as wonderful as mine. No alarm clocks, a lazy schedule, some fresh air and some new sights.
One of the constants for our family while on holiday is eating in restaurants. My wife is a bit of a foodie and is always looking for a great place to go. (I actually think she could open a side business consulting on the latest and greatest).
Aside from the food, I find restaurants to be a great place to see engagement and collaboration in action all built around the biggy – customer service.
We went out several times, but one night, a particular place stood out for me, not just because of the great food but because of the amazing service. The place was jammed! Every table was filled with people and piles of food. It was bustling, lively & exciting. It wasn’t just a meal but an experience! We spent a fortune and frankly, I wished I had worn stretchy pants. (Sorry, TMI).
But by far the star of the night (other than the food) was our waiter. Supremely confident, knowledgeable, and obviously unflappable. I couldn’t help but notice how happy he was. I would see him carrying piles of food to tables of 2, 4, 6 or even 10 people. He was laughing, smiling and carrying on, having great interactions with every table. He seemed to have boundless energy. I had to know how he got through these nights and more importantly I had to know his secret to being so happy at work.
When I first started on my path to becoming a professional musician I didn’t realize that being able to listen well was going to be my survival skill.
I didn’t realize that it didn’t matter how many notes I could play on whichever instrument.
I didn’t realize that I could make or break a rehearsal or performance by how much I used my listening skills, thereby lengthening or shortening my career.
Fortunately for me, I learned to listen and listen well. And when I really think of it now, over the years, I have listened more than I have played, and that’s a good thing. I'll repeat that - I have listened more than I have played. Many thanks to my teachers and colleagues for telling me ( No, yelling at me) to "LISTEN!".
How about you? How many times have you thought about saying it to a colleague or employee: “I wish you would just listen more?”
The other night I took my kids to a large destination park and I was struck by how many different cultures there were in that one place. I hadn’t been there for a couple of years and that night I was truly amazed at what an amazing cultural mosaic Canada has become. As I stood there looking at all the different faces around me, it made me realize I don’t know as much about the world (and its people) as I probably should.
I’ve always had a strong interest in the different cultures that inhabit our world (especially their music) but sometimes I have trouble keeping all the details straight. For example, I sometimes forget what religion is dominant in a certain area of the world, or I can’t recall what might have happened historically in a particular region or what the native language might be. (I knew I shouldn’t have blown off history class in high school).
Why does that matter, you ask?
I’m curious. Do you have a story about your first day at work at a new job? Your first week? Are you like me in that it’s been a while since you were a newbie on a job? From what I remember, I walked around, kept my mouth shut, kept my head down and tried my best to get a handle on things. Some people were friendly and some, not so much.
In the 12 months to May of this year, employment increased by 109,000 or 0.6%, the result of gains in full-time work. That’s a lot of new faces walking around new workplaces.
There are some great things going on like workplace mentors and buddy systems. I even came across a piece of software that busts through the silos by helping new hires connect with people in other parts of the company who might be from the same school or share the same hobbies or interests called Parklet. Pretty cool.
Certainly, all that helps, but have you ever thought about what part you could welcoming people to your organization? You should because you could have a greater impact than you think.
Perhaps you are familiar with the famous Will Farrell and Christopher Walken skit from Saturday Night Live where Farrell plays the cowbell along with the “band” Blue Oyster Cult. In case you‘re not, you have to see it. Just Google - "more cowbell".
In this skit, he dominates the recording session by playing his cowbell louder than any of the other instruments (encouraged by the producer). As he does this, he annoys his band mates more and more with each take. Finally things come to a head and tempers flare, but in the end the band members resolve their differences. Farrell is allowed to continue his very over-the-top cowbell playing only because the producer wants – “more cowbell!”
This is a very funny skit, but what about in the real world? What happens when you have someone at work who is, shall we say, “insensitive” to the point of annoyance to others?
I think we have all experienced someone like that. Often it doesn’t end so nicely. Like in the video, this can cause a lot of tension, which usually leads to some animosity or dispute.
Pointing out annoying behaviour to a colleague is very difficult to do.
But it has to be done and here’s why:
I remember sitting with my bandmates in the Evergreen Club a few years ago in a planning session. (We’re an 8 member group and we play a set of beautiful instruments from Indonesia called a Gamelan, the music is exotic and wonderful).
We were trying to come up with ideas for the next couple of concert seasons. We’ve been around a long time and have done some pretty good gigs, but it still falls on us to create some kind of plan to move forward. We need to get pieces written for us, look for presenters for our current repertoire and festivals to play in. Like many of you in the corporate world, we need to brainstorm plans and solutions.
Brainstorming is tough for any group of people and I'd like to share some things I learned from that experience as well as share some research I've been doing on better brainstorming