Have you ever sat quietly and listened to the world around you? I love sitting in nature and just enjoying the world around me. The sound of birds. The wind whistling through the tree tops. Perhaps the sound of a cricket chirping away in some unseen corner.

Then, suddenly you hear loud music. The birds fly away, and you can no longer hear the wind or crickets. It’s your neighbour, who, for some unknown reason has come to believe playing his music on max is needed. Seriously?!?

How would you respond?

I’ve bumped into this situation many times while camping. I respect everyone’s right to enjoy their camping experience in their way. However, when you play your music loud you are infringing on my experience. To make it worse, often it’s loud enough for me to hear the beat, but not loud enough to really hear the song.

This is actual a fairly common experience. It might be the noise of a radio, or even a generator. The point is there’s noise I don’t want to have in my camping experience.

There are many different ways I’ve reacted to this situation over our history of our camping:

  • With anger – in other words, I would yell over to the other campsite when the music got quiet for a few seconds. I would demand they stop being so inconsiderate and turn down the music
  • Report them – I’d go find the park warden asking them to deal with the culprits. The park wardens are always responsive to such complaints, so problem solved, right?
  • Stewing – I would make some reason not to do anything about it right now. I’d then sit there and stew on the inconsiderate behaviour of the people making all the noise hoping they’d turn it down shortly. However, I wouldn’t let go of the feeling and I’d feel my stress levels rise

Any guesses on how any of these approaches worked for me? Not well, of course. In fact, it often takes an inconvenience and caused me a great deal of stress. The other person was often not even aware of my stress as they happily continue to play their music.

A different response

A friend told me a story with a very different approach. In his case, he lives out in the country surrounded by lots of nature. There are other homes in the area, but they’re far enough through the forest that you cannot usually see or hear them.

Last year, one of my friend’s neighbours started to play his radio loud and non-stop. There are reasons for having done this which had nothing to do with my friend. The key is no-one could be home without the constant noise of the radio.

Obviously, my friend could have tried some of the tactics I have employed in my camping history. He could have also fought fire with fire as he has some loud speakers mounted on the outside of his house.

I can only imagine the feud which would have resulted from such actions. It could make for a very toxic environment. It’s easy to imagine how this could have escalated into something nasty before long.

Instead, my friend chose a very different response to the music. Our friends were understandably concerned about the impact the music would have on an event they were holding at their home. So, they went and talked to his neighbour with a request to turn the music down during the event.

On the first visit to the neighbour, the neighbour told him he wouldn’t turn down the music for them. However, he said he would do it for their guests. Well, it was a start and they were just happy for a little quiet.

For the next while, things went this way. With small steps the relationship with their neighbour continued to improve. There were even small bits of trust starting to form.

Earlier this year, a major hurricane was heading their way. They weren’t expecting a direct hit in their neighbourhood, but it was going to be a nasty storm. The neighbour, was not outfitted or prepared to stay through the storm or likely power outage to follow.

The neighbour called asking for help. He wondered if my friends would give him a ride into town to his sisters. Our friends were happy to help his neighbour in this way as it meant the neighbour would be safe.

After the storm passed, the cleanup started. Thankfully, their neighbourhood was largely spared from the worst damage. There were trees down, and they had lost power.

In the days that followed, our friends went over and checked on the neighbour’s property to see what damage may have happened. Thankfully, the worst was a tree down across the driveway.

So, my friend grabbed his chainsaw and made short work of that little problem. After eleven days, the power was restored. The friend called the neighbour and let him know the power is back and that he cleared the fallen tree from the driveway. The neighbour was grateful for the help and support of our friend.

Today they live in co-operation with each other. There is no music blaring through the peace and quiet of the neighbourhood.

Imagine how much different this may have gone if my friend had chosen a very different reaction to the neighbour.

Respond from the space

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.” — Stephen Covey

When you jump over the space between stimulus and response you lose some of your freedom. At the very least, you lose the opportunity to find freedom from the space.

Reactions to situations often come at a price. In my camping examples, I assumed a burden of carrying the problem with me all day long. How dare they inconvenience me by playing their music so loud. I have a problem, yet it’s their fault. Unless they change, my problem will not go away.

This is what it looks like to be in the mindset of laying blame.

In some ways laying blame can be liberating. I am not the cause, and unless they change I will continue to be stuck. On the other hand, this mindset doesn’t resolve anything. It leaves me feeling conflicted about having this problem. Often, the problem will weigh on me as I carry the burden of my experience being ruined.

It might seem easier to resolve such problems by yelling, or reporting the other person to an authority to look after. However, many of these approaches often come at a price of carrying a different kind of burden. It’s my experience that the burden increases as the situation escalates.

The easier path is to confront the actual problem. In other words, go talk to the other person and explain the impact they are having. Don’t make it about right or wrong, just share what the impact of their actions is having. Then, start to talk about how you can be in a different relationship with each other.

In my case, I usually find people playing music loudly in campgrounds are often unaware of the impact they are having. Usually a quick conversation is all it takes.

The space in leadership

All of this, is of course applicable in leadership. Whether it’s a minor inconvenience or major problem, leaping to reactions usually isn’t helpful. At times, the reaction might even be destructive to what you’re trying to achieve.

What if, instead of reacting, leaders took the time to take advantage of the space? To go find out what’s true about a situation before acting? How many feuds won’t happen, simply because you talked to the other person? How much better will the outcome be?

What becomes possible for your team?

What becomes possible for you?