Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seek first to understand then to be understood

What a long header for one of the seven habits. It is as wise as it is lengthy. How many times do we fly off half cocked in one direction or another? I suppose that is the nature of most of us. We live in a world of instant gratification. Why most of us cannot go without tweeting or facebooking for more than just a few minutes.

I remember a fictitious story of a woodcutter who was a widower and had his small infant son and a German shepherd living with him. He had to go out for some supplies so he left his infant sleeping quietly and trusted his dog to watch and protect his child. When he returned home he found his little cabin covered in blood and his child was not anywhere to be seen. He drew the conclusion that his dog had betrayed him and attacked his child in his absence. He quickly put an end to his dog’s life as it had obviously become a man eater and killed his child. It was not until after he had consummated this act of vengeance that he heard his child’s muffled cry from under his own nearby bed. It was then that he noticed the crashed in window where the intruder had come into his home. He then found the corpse of the wolf that his faithful dog had fought off, courageously protecting his child. One can only imagine the great remorse of the woodcutter when he discovered how he had jumped to an erroneous conclusion.

It is so very vital, especially in business, that we seek to understand before we require that we be understood. I wonder if Florida’s newly elected governor has inculcated this habit? I wonder if he truly anticipated the great wave of discomfort that he will cause in disrupting the lives of so many state of Florida workers in his policy implementation? I notice that he was booed rather emphatically as he served as the grand marshal of our Springtime Tallahassee parade. I wonder if he and his advisers truly sought to understand the plight of the citizenry when they sought to move quickly to make good on campaign promises.

I have noted that great wave of political correctness that has made public figures think carefully before they utter one particular syllable being concerned with how it will be spun. I think of people like Fuzzy Zoeller, Mr. Don Imus, Senator Trent Lott. The list goes on almost into the ifinite. They should have spent a little time seeking to understand what their declarations were going to do to the people who listened to them. Their careers all ended on their inability to understand.

We must do all we can possibly do in amassing information that will lead us in the direction of correct choices. To neglect this habit is to put ourselves at risk in our careers. I think back on my own lapses in judgment over the years and I wince in some degree of anguish. How I wish I had taken time to speak a little more carefully, not react to a particular rumor or push a plan of action in a wrong direction.

I remember an experience that I had back in October of 1999. I was a busy government affairs manager for my company and had been in the fight of my life with a legislative issue. I was exhausted and badly needed to get away from work and town. My wife and I took a trip to the Smokeys in the midst of the change in leaves. I swore to myself that I was going to forget work and not even check my voicemail. Well I lasted into about Wednesday and whilst my Mother-In-Law and wife were in the Sylva, NC WalMart I decided to check my voicemail. I fielded a call from the state of Florida director of the board of pharmacy. He advised me that I had lost the support of an important member of the board and he was launching torpedoes in my direction to scuttle my product. If he were successful then my company would lose millions in dollars of business on my watch. As I hung up, my vacation was over, I had to immediately respond to this situation. I was in the darkest of moods. As I waited for my wife and her Mom to come out of the WalMart I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was waiting for someone to pick him up. As I looked out at the mountain vista before me with leaves that were just sparkling with color, I mentioned to the man that I was from Florida and had not ever seen these leaves as beautiful as they were currently. I was not ready for his response. He said, " They tell me they are beautiful. I live here but I have never seen them. I have been blind since birth." I was speechless. Here I was caught up in the business disapointment, fearing failure and loss of revenue and maybe even my job. However, I could see the leaves, my wife's face, the road ahead, etc. This man corrected my perspective immediately and set me on the proper pathway. I thereafter went on my way with a measured sense of well being and set a clear path forward and corrected the business threat and continued to stay on the winning side of the issue.

Seeking first to understand the proper perspective on all things, rather than having others understand you, is vitally important.

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