I once had a boss who had an issue when it came to talking to people who stopped by. He had his office arranged so when you walked in his desk was between you and him. Regardless of what you needed to discuss he had this terrible habit of not taking his hands off the keyboard. In fact he would constantly shift his focus from me to his monitor. One day I walked in there and served him my two weeks notice as I was moving on. He was shocked and asked why I didn’t tell him I was heading in this direction.
At Agile 2013 Gil Broza led a great session on the Curious, Present and Empathetic Leader. I think this approach is useful for everyone not just leaders. We all have people knocking on our doors. I like the framework as it’s very simple so you don’t have to study at length to become good at it. When approached by someone who would like to discuss an issue there are three simple steps to make the discussion productive:
1) Be curious – One of the most powerful questions I think you can ask is “What would you like to get out of this conversation?” I think immediately it starts to understand expectation, and align you as the listener with the other person’s needs. During this part of the conversation seek to understand what is happening to the other person. Ask questions to clarify and build your understanding to so you’re on the same page. Be careful not to go too far as that could just get annoying.
2) Be Present – Take your hands off your keyboard. Look the other person in the eyes. Leave your Smartphone alone. Align yourself with the other person to make it easier for the connection between the two of you to happen. If you cannot accomplish this at the point in time the person arrives, don’t be afraid to make an appointment with them when you can be present. Interruptions are a big problem in business today, but what rule says you have to accept it right then?
3) Be empathetic – Being empathetic to what’s happening for the other person means you’re showing how you understand and can see what they’re going through. It doesn’t mean you pity them or you’re going to fix the problem for them. I think when you as the leader reach this point you’ve reached a level of understanding allowing you to continue leading and coaching. A good way to show empathy for them is through statements such as “This must be troubling you a lot”
Having such a simple framework means we can all use it! I really wish my boss in the first paragraph would have known about these three steps. It may have kept me from resigning from a job I liked if I could have found a solution.
If you’re wondering about my resignation and whether I had given him the heads up. I actually did tell him on numerous occasions. The issue at the time was the amount of business travel at the time which was taking it’s toll on my young family. Numerous times I had gone into his office and talk to him about this issue. I would even use words such as “I need to stop travelling so much even if it means changing jobs”. In hindsight he wasn’t curious, present or empathetic … and the result was me leaving.