Flipping through my social media feed, I stumbled across an article published by Mara Gordon of KUOW, “How To Pick A Doctor (Or Break Up With One).”
“The most important factor is that you feel comfortable with your provider. Be on the lookout for someone who makes eye contact and who listens without interrupting.” ~ Mara Gordon, KUOW
Several have approached me with questions for advice about their career choices. It has been important for me to practice listening to the dialogue cues. It has also been interesting to note that most of the time, I’m asking myself what that person is willing to change. What does the speaker understand? Are they, and will they be reacting out of fear or disrespect? As I listen to the speaker, I ask questions to see if I understand what they are trying to communicate. I rarely give answers. I try to let them find the answers for themselves. Successful team integration requires all stakeholders to understand, to be able to clearly distinguish the difference between fear and disrespect.
“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.” ~ J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Having a goal to improve my skills as a horse owner, I have learned that understanding horses is not an easy task. Horses do not speak human language and us humans love to make assumptions without really listening to the cues the horses are using to try to have a conversation with us.
If we are listening, are we asking horses questions that they understand and do we notice whether they do not understand? Are we listening with honesty and are we collecting enough results to validate what we think we know? Or are we assuming that they know our commands and demanding performance without checking our responsibility to understand the horses?
This is very similar to the work-life culture that we can experience. During meetings, are we having engaging dialogues that include all of the required attendees? Or are we holding a boring lecture that gave us a captive audience that is held hostage by their fear of public perceptions so we can feed our egos by showcasing what we think we know?
A horse seems to be inspired to learn when we offer it the opportunity to ask us a question. We have to be listening and we have to be paying attention to the micro signals they will send us. We can monitor for the same signals during the interview process to analyze whether a team or organization will be the right fit for us.
It starts with questions and if the interviewer or manager is unwilling to afford you the time to ask them questions so you can analyze their business culture, they may not be the right fit for you. Will they ever afford you the opportunity to be heard? Or will it be a never-ending cycle of droning on and on about their opinions? Some behavioral questions could be:
- I understand that the company’s values are [value list]. What are your team’s values and can you tell me how that aligns with the company goals?
- Why do you want me to consider this position?
- What are your team’s greatest professional strengths?
- Can you give me an example of a time of when you were really proud about how the team rose above one of their greatest weaknesses?
The interview process isn’t just for the employer. It is supposed to be a moment of questions and answers for both parties to discover whether this will be a good relationship for everyone involved. Don’t be afraid to be bold. Ask your questions to support your needs of a work-life culture that is best for you. If you make a mistake, learn from it then move on to the next step.
“Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.” ~ C. JoyBell C.
With horses, it is obvious when they are afraid. They let us know when they are afraid. Or… is that an assumption that we make? Are they really afraid or are they looking for something to be afraid of so they can get us to do what we always do when they behave certain ways? This can be very confusing as an equestrian student. I’m often asking, “How do you know? What did you see? What did I miss?”
Imagine how much power we would have when we are able to conquer fear. One of the most common fears in the workforce is the fear of looking like we don’t know something. Sometimes we babble on incessantly trying to baffle people with our brilliance. “Look what I can do!” We can overshadow colleagues and the people we are in charge of wanting to prove our worth.
With my horse trainer, I recognized that he will not waste his time and effort with me if I insist on wearing a mask of pretense. My business is not as important as my horse’s welfare is. My horse will tell him everything he needs to know. And he does. I have learned to look at my fear differently and to apply a different approach. An approach of vulnerability because I trust my trainer to handle me with a level of emotional intelligence that will help me learn.
Learning involves a lot of scary moments. Scary moments where we could get trampled. We could be bitten or kicked. We could get on that horse and it could buck us off. It’s going to hurt. We don’t like to be hurt, especially emotionally. So it is important for trainers to be willing to be safe harbors.
Can we say the same thing with employers? Some managers love to declare, “This is not an educational institution! It’s not our job to educate you!” Fair enough. Understood. So–what’s the point of having trainers? What is the goal of training time? Some important interview questions that you could consider would be:
- What is your training philosophy?
- What mastery track(s) have you implemented for your team(s)?
- What educational goals do you think are important for your team members to have?
I’ve learned through horses that my moments of fear are signals that can be a learning opportunity. It shifts my perspective enough to empower me. It is a momentary adjustment that can complement strength.
It’s a feeling and when we can recognize where the feeling is coming from, I have discovered that it can be easier to rise above it because fear seems to create many situations of misunderstandings. Sometimes that misunderstanding can be a perception of disrespect.
“Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.” ~ Cesar Chavez
American labor leader Cesar Chavez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. He was an advocate for Hispanic empowerment with ideologies influenced by leaders like Mahatma Gandhi. Chavez was also an advocate of the Filipino American farmworkers that were protesting for higher wages in 1965.
During a training session, I was asked whether a horse’s behavior was out of fear or disrespect. One horse, because of his history, he was acting out of fear. Another horse, I was asked what I thought his behavior was. I wasn’t sure. There weren’t enough data points collected through exercises to know for sure whether he was fearful or disrespectful.
When workers walk out of their place of employment for a cause they commonly believe in, some commenters make declarations that are dismissive of the experiences those workers are having. “Well, if they didn’t like the conditions of their jobs, they should just find a job someplace else.” If all the workers are feeling the same thing and walking out, aren’t they basically accepting the risk that they may not have a job to return to?
On the other side of the coin, what can we do when we are searching for our next career milestone? If we want to be a part of a community that has a respectful culture, that operates with values that align with our ethics, the interview process can be a defining moment to ask questions like:
- Can you give me an example of a time when your team had a conflict and what you did to resolve it?
- What does your dream employee look like?
- In your most ideal employee, what do you envision for their career in five years?
These questions are to help you gauge whether the person in charge of the team is a boss or a leader. A boss can frequently be disrespectful of the people they are in charge with because of secret fears they have. Whereas, a leader will acknowledge their fears and they are not afraid to face them by encouraging their people to grow in a way that will be best for the employee’s career direction.
A quality leader will never desire to hold their people back. A confident leader will encourage growth for all their employees every day so they can flourish into the leaders of tomorrow.
Respect is duplex energy. Not a one-way street. If culture is important to you, notice whether an organization’s interview process affords you the opportunity to ask questions with ample time for them to have to answer them. If the interviewer is unwilling to answer any of your questions, that is a sign of something. What could it be?
Ultimately, a job could be a solution for you to pay your bills and gain more skills but will you flourish in their environment? Will the organization grow you or will they stifle you? Harvard Business Review published that CEB reported, “the average organization has undergone five enterprise-wide changes in the past three years and 73% expect change to accelerate.” If this is the case, then it seems that champions of change will need to drive the art of business communication to understand what people need. It will also require some emotional intelligence to understand people’s fears and where being respectful is everyone’s responsibility within the community.
This all begins during the interview. Use the interview process as the moment to decide whether that employer is a good fit for you. If not, move on. You can’t change the world but you can change you.