Earlier today I was waiting to make a left turn. The man in the SUV behind me kept leaning on his horn. In my rear view mirror I could see him hollering and motioning for me to "Just go already!" Despite his roadway bullying, I didn't budge. Why? Because I was waiting for an elderly man to slowly make his way across the street. I'm sure the fellow in the SUV wouldn't have been honking so frantically if he had seen the elderly pedestrian. As a matter of fact, he probably felt rather badly about his rude behavior once he started to turn the corner and had a different view of the situation.
It made me wonder: What if the man in the SUV and I had been in a position to speak to each other instead of relying on honking and arm signals? The conversation might have gone like this:
Man in SUV: "Excuse me, are you going to turn now?"
Me: "Oh my, no. There is an elderly man crossing the street. See? He's over there."
Man in SUV: "Oh, you're right, I didn't see him. Once he's up on the sidewalk, will you go then? I'm kind of in a hurry today."
Me: "You bet. Have a nice day."
It's a common workplace phenomenon for people to make snap judgments about how others should do their work based a personal view of the situation. We often want to tell people to go faster, or change their process. We assume - because of how we see things - that the "better way" should be obvious. Yet how much do we really know about what our co-workers are facing each day? Are we aware of the elderly pedestrians in the street ahead of them? Based on the stories I hear from employees who drop by for coaching, it seems that we generate a lot of frustration and anxiety in our work when we expect people to see things the way we do, and we neglect to consider the views of others.
The solution is relatively simple - stop telling, and start asking. In the example above, we know that the Man in the SUV would have behaved quite differently if he could have asked me what was going on, rather than trying to tell me what to do. Likewise, you may find that you are able to work better with your co-workers when you ask them about their approach to work, and the processes they follow, rather than trying to tell them a different way.
This advice holds true for Supervisors as well as their employees. I once worked with a Director who was having problems with his team. I suggested he start by asking them some questions. He responded, "I am a Director. I worked hard to get to this level. I have earned the right to tell people what needs to be done. I don't have to ask all the time." I explained to him, that contrary to his outdated thinking, the best leaders I know spend far more time asking than telling. They are always curious about what is going on, and how other see the situation. People tend to enjoy working for leaders like this because they feel they get to contribute more to the successes of the team. This man disagreed with me, and he continues to struggle with his career to this day.
So take some time to ask yourself: Am I the type of person who likes to tell, or the type of person who likes to ask? The answer will have an impact on how far you go in your career.