The 20 habits that prevent you from getting to the top (part 5 of 5)

(this is the last [fifth] part of a five part series)

As I mentioned before, i’ll follow-up the habits with some commentary on how I see these in my daily life.

The 20 habits that prevent you from getting to the top

16. Not listening: the most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues. 

Not listening, or it’s close cousin “interrupting someone mid-sentence” is one those habits that you’ll spend a lifetime correcting if you don’t have awareness you’re doing it wrong and the tools to do it better.

Personally, I struggle more with not-interrupting as I tend to jump-in mid conversation if something didn’t quite sound right or if I (think) I know what the other person is going to say.

On the other hand, making sure other people feel listened-to is one of those things I know helps build great rapport from the start and sets relationships on a high note from the get-go.

Here’s what I think helps:

First, get back to the “now” by scanning your body for sensations from your head to your toes (i usually wiggle my toes as a result). You know those Simpson’s cartoons in where the boss is speaking and all Homer can hear is “blah blah blah”. Scanning your body tunes the moment back to the present and helps turn that voice from “blah blah blah” to something useful.

Second, paraphrase. Use your own words (or better yet use their own) to recap what you’ve heard. “Can I paraphrase to make sure I understood you right? I heard you say X and then Y. Is that right?”

Finally, apologise. If you find yourself interrupting, make sure you apologise and are the one aware of your own fault, before someone points it out to you. This does not help with the problem per say, but the first step being awareness, from that moment on you’ve committed publicly not to do it again.

17. Failing to express gratitude: the most basic form of bad manners.

Marshall points out that most of us don’t know how to receive compliments. “Great dress, I love it” – “Oh this old thing?”. Instead of appreciating the comment, most of us ramble about how it’s not such a big thing.

Like Marshall, I’m suggesting that we do take the compliment and say “Thank you X – so very nice of you to notice”.

Uplifting a relationship is also about creating great moments, and certainly complimenting someone on a detail is a part of that.

One example of where I see this in the workplace is after a workshop meeting with a new team. A courtesy e-mail shortly after expressing gratitude for the time allocated and mentioning something specific about the exchange goes along way in building rapport amongst the teams.

18. Punishing the messenger: the misguided need to attach the innocent who are usually only trying to help us.

If your goal is to stop people from giving you input – of all kinds – perfect your reputation for shooting the messenger. Go ahead and express disgust when your boss secretary tells you he’s too busy to see you now (even though it’s not her fault).

Again, this is the kind of habit you’ll spend your life perfecting if you’re not aware you’re doing it wrong, and have the tools to correct it.

But in this case, it’s actually simple: stop and ask yourself “is this within this person’s circle of control?” (i.e. something that he/she can control) [awareness]. If not, say “Thank you”. [tool].

On the other side of the spectrum, beware of a company in where you’re only working with the messengers. If you need to proxy your requests/ideas through a messenger as opposed to talking directly to the decision maker, something will get lost in transmission.

One example of where I get tempted to punish the messenger happens in the closing days of every QA cycle (when a severe issue suddenly shows up). It’s all too tempting to punish the messenger and ask “how come we didn’t find this mid cycle?” or “with so many layers of quality and tests how come we are still finding severe issues like this”. But that’s not constructive and most certainly ain’t going to help fix any bug. In this scenario, the tester reporting the issue acts as the messenger for the bad news that there’s a bug in our software. I’ve learned to react differently. I’ve learned to say “Thank you, great that we managed to catch this one before our customers did!”.

19. Passing the buck: the need to blame everyone but ourselves.

Loyalty, character and dependability are only build by admitting our failures. Constantly passing the buck by coming up with excuses on how it was everyone else’s fault but ours might be creative but it’s just not right.

The sooner we move on and learn from failures, the better. The past is there for us to learn, not for us to change.

That’s why I ask everyone on my teams to fail fast. Infallibility is a myth. Being wrong is an opportunity we’d do ourselves a favour to take.

Opposite to that is that we sit here in our own little corner, telling each other war stories about how what everyone else did was “stupid” and how we “told them so many times”. That is just simply a fallacy. Maybe, just maybe, we all became too good about risking somebody else’s money to build software products (and companies). You don’t get to spend somebody else’s buck and still say “you know better” without “putting your money where your mouth is”.

Being accountable after consensus is a skill you’d do yourself a favour to learn as soon as you can.

20. An excessive need to be “me”: exalting our faults as virtues simpy because they’re who we are.

Each of us has a pile of behaviour which we define as “me”. It’s the chronic behaviour, both positive and negative, that we think of as our inalterable essence. Simply put, this stern allegiance to this definition of yourself is pointless vanity.

In the words of Marhsall, “[he] couldn’t stop thinking about himself and start behaving in a way that benefited others”.

These past twenty habits are a model that helped me immensely transition from an operational role, in where I contributed linearly to the end-product, to a more leadership role, in where my contribution is leveraging other people’s talents. In the midst of it, I certainly had an “excessive need to be me” projecting my faults as inalterable traits of my character. I’ve learned the hard way that you can in months revamp your life and start over with a new fresh outlook. Present yourself to the world in a way that benefits others and stop being vain with that old pile of behaviours you right now define as being “me”.

Next time you catch yourself saying “this is the way I am” ask yourself “was there a circumstance in where I am not like this? What happens that allows me to choose?”. If there is no previous resource you can access, by all means, give it a try, go and try something new for a change – who knows you might just like it and keep it.

Hope this series was of help – see you next week!


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