Some years back HR was curious for input on how our company should attract and retain really, really smart scientists. I was asked to facilitate a group discussion to ask this question and report their suggestions back to HR. “It will be better if someone in their own department is asking instead of an HR person.”
I popped the question to the small group HR had recruited, all huddled in a conference room. One guy, brand new to me and just starting at our company, immediately responded. “That’s simple,” he said calmly. “The company should stop hiring so many people of average intelligence, like yourself.”
His mouth kept moving for about 90 seconds but I didn’t hear a word he said. My id and ego were roaring “Average intelligence? Average! I have a Ph.D. I’m a smart guy! My tested IQ puts me in the top 1% of the planet! I’m writing a book! I have a patent! People come to me for advice on hard problems!” and so on.
The truth is that compared to this smart guy, I truly am average intelligence. He’s off the charts – a scary smart guy. Maybe his emotional intelligence in that situation was at “moron,” but he had a point and I couldn’t hear him. To this day I have no idea what else this truly smart guy suggested.
The leadership lesson is that emotional triggers put such a buzz in your listening capability that you’re going to miss things.
Forewarned is forearmed: if you know your weaknesses and tendencies, you can be better prepared. You can pre-decide how you will listen to input, no matter how boring or outrageous. You can go into meetings consciously curious to hear their perspective, rather than thinking of this as a boring duty. You can remind yourself that there is always something to learn from every situation. You can imagine how you will keep calm no matter how emotional the situation becomes.
We are passionate creatures, but emotions don’t solve problems. Emotions don’t learn.
[Related: Consider similar situations with your spouse, your children, your aging parents. Listening is crucial.]