Which Wall are You: Temporary or Permanent?

Walls.  Are you familiar with them?  This may seem like an odd question but a comment I heard recently got me thinking.

My friend described a recent conversation with her sister. They disagree about some life choices being made and my friend put it this way, “Talking with my sister is like talking to a wall. But actually, I would rather talk to a wall. At least I can do something with it: I can paint it, knock a hole in it, even tear it down and rebuild it. But with my sister, I’m getting nowhere.”

Wow.  Interesting statement isn’t it? Could the same ever be said of you or me?  Is a wall actually easier to deal with than we are? Or, are you frustrated by those difficult interactions with folks who make you feel like my friend did with her sister?

Let’s face it, working with others can be tough.  We disagree over how to accomplish a task or sometimes the issue is simply a personality conflict.  And too often those disagreements play out as one or both parties completely shut down to the other person. Given this reality, what can leaders do to keep personal effectiveness at the forefront?

It all begins with intentionality.  Effectiveness is rarely an accident so consider these three tips for your interactions with others and reduce “wall building”:

#1 Their perception matters more than your intent.
Your employees (co-workers, volunteers, boss) are not mind readers. While your words may be intended to “help” someone, if the other person doesn’t hear those words as a helpful purpose, miscommunication will occur.  When perceptions go awry, defenses go up (walls) and the likelihood to get through to the other person decreases dramatically.  The solution:  state your intent verbally and ensure your tone matches the intent in your mind.  Then be willing for dialog to ensure a shard understanding occurs.

#2 Get regular feedback from others.
Most people are either their own worst critic or they are overconfident.  So regardless of which camp is you, it’s critical to get feedback from those you interact with on a regular basis.  And it can be as simple as one question:  what is one thing I could do or change that would improve our working relationship?  Here’s the key: if you ask the question be willing to hear the answer.  Resist the temptation to defend yourself against someone’s feedback because guess what…that’s the definition of a wall and the feedback will stop.

#3  Learn something new each week.
Yes you are busy and yes, there are many “to do” items on your plate.  However, if you will focus on becoming a student each week, you will be surprised by how your perspective changes.  What does this mean? Some suggestions include: read a blog each week from someone in your industry (or a competitor); ask your team their suggestions for improving one bottle-necked process that frustrates them; have coffee with a person outside your department or organization each week with the goal of learning about them and ways you can help them.  An amazing thing happens when these tasks are a part of your week. Your mindset grows more open because you are adding knowledge to your world.  And that openness will begin to extend to your interactions with others. Someone who is focused on learning is easier to interact with.  It’s a psychological change that translates to behavior.

I liked my friend’s wall analogy.  And you know she’s right.  Give me a physical wall any day.  I like to wallpaper and paint and perhaps even take a sledgehammer to it and build something else.  Those activities represent progress.  And isn’t that what others who interact with you really want?  You bet.

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