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Lean in with your ears

We were trying to solve a problem, but we’re going in circles – generating ideas faster than we could consider them.

It was like twelve people playing a game of chess.

Some people retracted into the shadows; others advanced into the light.

Alliances formed around ideas, advancing them and then defending them.

Many times I tried to help the group get back on track, yet my attempts failed.

Defeated, I retracted, sitting in silence.

On the outside, I appeared disconnected, but inside I was in turmoil.

Finally, we called for a vote on a high-level idea.

The voting rules are simple:

  • thumbs-up means “I support the idea.”
  • thumbs-down means “I oppose the idea.”
  • side-thumb means “I will go along with the group’s decision.”

For the first time, I voted side-thumb.

The realization of side-thumb

As we broke for a bio-break, my friend Jack fell in step next to me. When I shook my head in frustration with the team, he looked surprised.

“Oh, I saw you voted side-thumb. Since you’ll go along with the group, do you even need to be in the next part of the meeting?”

In a flash, I realized he was right.

If I said I’d go along with the group, maybe I wasn’t needed for the rest of the discussion.

Maybe I’d been making the work more difficult because I’d been trying to give input on something I didn’t care about.

Why would I do this? Probably because I want to impress people, feel that I have good ideas about most topics, and have a habit of speaking up.

I took Jack’s advice and skipped out on the lunch session.

When I returned, I found the group had made great progress without me.

Truthfully, this stung a little.

Turns out that not only didn’t they need me, but I was also getting in the way.

Is this hard for you, too?

Are you in the habit of offering ideas in most situations, even if you don’t care about the outcome?

Maybe you don’t have to – perhaps it’s actually getting in the way.

I’m going to try listening more, talking less, and observing more carefully.

Not disengaging, but leaning into the discussion with my ears, not my mouth.

Maybe I can help more by using only 10% of the words.

Or, with none at all.

It’s worth a think, eh?

About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

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