Break a Pencil and Listen

If you prick me, do I not bleed? If you tickle me, do I not laugh?

Ok, quoting Shakespeare really is not my thing but you have absolutely got to get the human part of human resources. I am human and will not even pretend to be perfect. I do work hard and have good intentions but you know what they say, that and $3.95, plus tax, may get you a tiny Fa La Latte at Caribou this holiday season. HR leaders tend to have thicker skin than most of the professional world, really. It's a fact, proven by someone, somewhere . . . I am sure. Well, pretty sure.

Let's say that someone comes into your office and questions a policy, practice or procedure of yours. Or, you send an e-mail to communicate some not so great news and one of the recipients tells you that it did not come across well and caused some hard feelings. Or, you make a decision (definitely your decision to make), you get a look at your conscience via another person's raised eyebrows. What do you do?

Do you look at them like they are crazy; write them off and not return their calls; minimize the presenters and their opinions; keep telling them why you do things a certain way (throwing in a regulation, big phrase or directive here and there for effect) until you wear them down and they simply give up; do you get get anxious, feel threatened and withdraw; or some variation on the theme? Been there, done that and know that it really does not serve any one well. Knowing doesn't make it any easier and knowing doesn't mean that my first instinct won't be shaded just a little bit by some defensiveness. 

So what do I do? What can you do? When you feel it coming on, take a deep breath, grab a pencil, and do everything you can to quiet the internal noise (read:ego) so that you can listen.

Breathe. It is so easy to take these ideas, suggestions, challenges personally. Don't.

Grab a pencil. Why? Pencils are easier to break than pens. Better yet, grab something softer and less likely to make a cracking sound when you break it under your desk as you work hard to keep an open mind. Yes, it is hard to sit there and listen without thinking at some point, "Who are you to tell me how to do my job or to even suggest that I may not be doing it well. . . ." Ah, there it is, the ego. Break the pencil, crush the cookie, release the tension and get back in the game.

Listen. If you don't listen, people will stop talking. If you want to learn, you have got to listen. There may be a better way out there. There may be a system or process refinement you can adapt. This may be the time to build or enhance a relationship, to share or further refine your values, directions or goals or better yet, to make a connection.

Process. Are you resisting? If so, why? Is it fear of the unknown? Is it about having to be right? Does the suggestion get at a core value?  Need more facts? Start researching. Is it within your control to adapt or deny? Is the ego trying to take over? Don't let it.Talk it out with someone else.  After some consideration, it may be the time to flat out say "No, not under my watch." The point is, you won't know unless you listen.

Respond. Respond from a willingness to consider, a desire to learn and grow, or an opportunity to model leadership. Respond from anything but  a position of defensiveness.

Granted, some times this works better than others so if you make a mess, make sure you go back and clean it up. People are likely to move past or even forget the issue at hand however, the effects of your (my) behavior during and after the interaction can linger far longer.

Hey, break a pencil and listen. It's all about continuous learning.