Monday, November 26, 2012

How Fast are You Getting the Bad News?

Captain Dave Boudreau, one of my first mentors and teachers back in my early army days, used to say that you can always tell a good commander by how quickly they got the bad news. Capt Boudreau explained that everybody likes good news, and it is always nice to pass it on, especially given that involvement in good news can be beneficial to our careers at any level. 

But to know if you are really trusted, in whatever role you may be playing; to know people believe in you and what you are doing; to, in short, know that goals and values are shared in a high trust climate; the litmus test is bad news. Are you one of the first ones told? Are you trusted to
advise people how to get out of a tight spot? Are you asked for advice in stressful, emotionally volatile situations?

I have seen managers in both education and business with signs on their doors or in their offices saying things like 'excuse limit 0' or 'no complaining zone' or, in classrooms, 'no whining zone' etc. These people often think they are being witty or cute, but what they are really doing is cutting off honesty and frankness and stifling direct and open communication.

What happens when openness is stifled? When honesty becomes a vice instead of a virtue? One of the first things that happens is there is little anger or frustration shown on the surface, for fear of reprisal. Does the anger disappear? Hardly! Usually it migrates underground and causes a cancerous growth which, over time, eats away at the health of the organization. An organization, whether it be a school or a bank or even a family, is really a living organism with its main blood flow being sound and honest communication. Closed or one way communication, that is not direct and honest, clogs the arteries of the organization. The heart, meaning management, must pump more and more blood (that is, give direct orders) to overcome the clogging created by the dishonesty and duplicity that is a byproduct of failing to encourage and reward open communication. Over time, the weight and drag of this ineffectiveness, unchecked, will cause an organization to deteriorate, and, eventually, collapse.

I teach in a classroom. I work with kids who have trouble learning in a normal class setting. I am very concerned about open communication and think a lot about how to encourage it. I do this because I know a frustrated kid can't learn, and nothing is more frustrating than not being listened to when one has a concern or is hurting emotionally.

So, how can we encourage open communication? Start with being open and frank when you mess up. People of any age will pick up on this.

Often I hear people say that if they do this, they will be seen as weak. But this is not my experience. What happens is people, seeing you as having vulnerability and humility and as being unafraid to let others see you as flawed, as human, will open up to you and tell you straight out what is on their mind.

Not a day goes by a child or a colleague does not come in and tell me what he or she feels is a better way to do something. And often they are right. And I just change the procedure when that situation comes up again. The kids love it; because I will publicly recognize the contribution and the contributor.

Part of this also, and maybe we can call this a second 'thing to do' is not to be over-invested or wedded to any one procedure. You see, to me, how I am doing things right now is just how I am doing them. Somebody can come along a day or an hour from now and say "Andy, look, this works better, and here's why..." If it makes sense, I am going to give it a shot! I can always revert back if it does not improve things. I love the medical metaphor "practicing medicine" meaning we haven't got it quite perfect yet; we can still adjust and get better. Yes, I am practicing teaching. Maybe you are practicing hair styling or computer programming or dancing or acting or automotive mechanics.

Kids come in on a regular basis and tell me they messed up or were not honest with a friend or another teacher or have been hurtful with their parents. It's not because I am super human or some wonderful guy or anything like that! It's because I mess up. A lot. And they know it and that I am not scared of it or worried about them knowing. I get impatient and angry and frustrated and upset. I am real with them; they are real with me. And because I get the bad news quickly, I can respond while there is still plenty of time to sort things out.

So, think about it: How fast are you getting the bad news?...

1 comment:

  1. Just want to add Andy... when people (students, peers, friends, etc...) come to us with their "problems or situations", if feel its attributes to our characturists of who we are that we share a deep sense of care and/or concern for the individual/s at hand. We field the problem/situation quickly and efficiently likely because we have "been there - done that" and the said folks may know and/or seen that we may have already been down that path and can assist and/or advise them. All and all, you are on the money! By the way... One of the most effective tools in the Infantryman's tool box is the AAR (After Action Report) - I use to love going through that process and getting back into the game with a new and fresh propective on taking on the mission!

    You "Da Man" Andy!