Promote workplace understanding with humility, openness
WITH FAUSTINO DAGDAG
VICE PRESIDENT, SOCIETY FOR HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT HAWAII CHAPTER
Popular author Stephen Covey advised, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Many business advisers translate Covey’s tip as an admonition to communicate well. But seeking to understand entails more than just good communication. It requires an attitude of humility and curiosity. It’s about listening and being willing to respond and adapt. Building the skills needed to truly understand others will directly and indirectly help most any career.
Q: My boss is vague and never says exactly what he means. Where do I start?
A: Try gathering information by asking clarifying questions. For example, you seek additional guidance by giving an example (“Do you mean this?”), a proposed deadline (“Can I get that to you Friday?”), or for specific outcomes (“Do you need three reports?”). If appropriate to your workplace, request a meeting to discuss what seems unclear to you. Observe not just the words your boss is using, but the tone, body language and context. Do any of those non-verbal cues help clarify what he intends? “Seeking to understand” requires effort, so be patient with yourself and others.
Q: My workplace promotes diversity, but how do we overcome some real cultural differences?
A: Behaviors and workplace performance, rather than others’ privately held beliefs or attitudes, are the best places to start. It is rarely necessary — and is often counterproductive — to seek workplace consensus on matters outside of work. Cultural differences do not excuse inappropriate or illegal behavior, such as harassment or discrimination. Working together collaboratively and actively seeking inclusiveness can promote understanding by developing a shared sense of accomplishment.
Q: I don’t agree with my boss on many things, so how can “seeking to understand” help me?
A: In some cases, you may have a good understanding of your work-place supervisor’s reasons or requests but not agree with them. There may be times when gaining insight and understanding leads you to leave a job that isn’t a good fit for your skills, experience or values. Finding that out sooner rather than later can benefit both you and your (soon-to-be-former) employer.