We have countless interactions with other people, and those interactions can be neutral, positive, or negative. Personally, I have found myself all too many times caught up in a moment, not quite paying attention, not being fully engaged, and reacting to a question or comment in a short, negative, even irritated way. Most busy people can relate.
One of our consultants was in an airport recently and witnessed a situation that illustrates how these seemingly small interactions play out. An Air Force officer was waiting to board his flight and very politely walked up to a lady and inquired, "Excuse me. Are you in line?" She abruptly rounded on him with an incredulous look on her face said, "I'm not blocking you! Why are you asking me?" She became visibly irate with no real provocation. To his credit, the officer said simply, "Thank you," and moved on to his place in line. Our consultant observed what could have been a warm moment of human courtesy turn into an ugly exchange witnessed by many other people.
Think about how many times that sort of instance happens in your company. We took some training about 20 years ago from a talented psychotherapist who taught us the "ingredients" present in every human interaction. There are five:
- The message that we receive through our five senses. In this case, the lady heard "are you in line?" She also was able to observe, if she had elected to do so, body language, tone of voice, and other things.
- Meanings that we derive from the message. We hear and observe, and we then filter the inputs through our memories and perceptions of who we are as people. All five of these ingredients happen, not incidentally, in a matter of nanoseconds. Our brains are truly amazing computers!
- Feelings come up about the message. Sometimes the feelings are neutral, they may be happy, or they may represent any number of other feelings across the spectrum. Even the most stony, cool-headed, rational, and resolute contractor, because he or she is a biological creature, experiences emotions in the form of feelings as an ingredient in communication.
- Feelings about our feelings. This is an incredible insight our psychotherapist contributed to the literature! Not only do we have feelings, we have feelings about our feelings! This is where we can get caught up in our own psychological dramas, and it's why Socrates’ admonished us to "know thyself" as such a fundamental part of becoming a mature, reflective person.
- Response is what other people see after we have invisibly and nearly instantly completed the first four steps. When the lady became angry and made it apparent to everyone, that's the response people saw without any ability to peer inside her for what motivations prompted her disproportionate outburst.
Stephen Covey taught us that we have an opportunity, and that opportunity is to exercise integrity in the moment of choice just prior to response. That’s where we can elect to let our emotions get the better of us or to choose an alternative path. That instant isn’t a minute or even 30 seconds, it's only a tiny fraction of a second. The officer in this case exercised integrity, remained calm and polite, took what could have been a spiraling blow up, and simply erased it. He exercised integrity in his moment of choice, and, through that simple election, set an example for all of us.
As the leader of your company, you have that same choice. If you allow a message to morph into, "I think I heard something negative; I'm going to blow up!" you are likely not exercising integrity. In the construction business, there are occasionally moments that might cause even the most even-keeled leader to blow his stack, but most interactions aren't that way. To successfully lead a construction company in these times, executives need to listen more thoroughly and exercise integrity in their moments of choice.
Wayne Rivers is the president of The Family Business Institute, Inc. FBI’s mission is to build better contractors! Wayne can be reached at 877-326-2493, [email protected], or on the web at www.familybusinessinstitute.com