Many of us entrepreneurs have a tendency to be a bit aggressive at times. The appropriate analogy might be something about a bull in a china shop. Speaking for myself I know there have been times when I pushed through a situation and likely ran roughshod over others who were involved. It’s not that we do so intentionally, but we are naturally assertive and want to get things done . . . right now!
Much earlier in my career I was totally oblivious to how others might be reacting to me. I had not yet learned how to “read” people. I thought I was doing things the right way, but apparently was stepping on a lot of toes in the process. When this was pointed out to me I became a bit defensive and thought, “It’s not my problem if others have such thin skins.” Perhaps this was true in a literal sense, but how others feel and perceive us becomes reality – regardless of what we intend. What I didn’t realize is that being the bulldozer caused my colleagues and others to resent me and not want to work with me.
After many years it became apparent that others weren’t going to change – I needed to instead. Fortunately this didn’t require me to compromise my principles. But I realized that not only did I need to understand how others were responding to me, but also that I needed to adjust my approach accordingly. I began to pay close attention to “reading” people and modifying my approach away from a “one-size fits-all.”
Reading people is multi-faceted. It requires us to listen not only to what others say but how they say it. If I am laying out a strategy and asking for feedback, I need to pay attention to voice inflection, pitch, cadence and tone. I need to watch facial features. Does the other person’s jaw clench; is there an eye twitch; does the color change in his or her face, and do the nostrils flair? I must observe other body language tells. Is there a stiffening or turning of the body; do the arms fold or gesture in some way; do the fists clench; does the head raise or drop; is eye contact lost; what do I see in the eyes, and does the person literally shrink in position? How exactly does the person verbally respond? Is there hesitation before speaking? What words are selected by the person in his or her response?
People reads are only part of the sensitivity process. How do I conduct myself when receiving feedback? Is my body language open or closed? Do I keep a smile on my face or do I send signals that I don’t really want to hear what is being said? Am I truly listening or just giving the appearance of doing so? I have found that repeating back what the other person says helps send the message that I am listening. Then it’s important for me to acknowledge what is being said in a positive manner. For example, “I hear you when you tell me that you aren’t in favor of reaching out to the client in the manner I suggested and understand why you feel the way you do. Let’s come up with a different way of handling this.” In the old days I would simply tell the person to “just do it.” Today, it’s become much more important for me to be flexible and help others find different ways to reach the same end goal than just the way I want to do it.
Sensitivity is not a weakness. Instead it is an effective leadership trait. Reading people; listening to them; understanding what they are saying, and making the necessary adjustments engenders the trust and confidence of our team.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.