Categories
Compassion Empathy Invisibleism Love

What Makes the World Go ’Round?

When you sit down with people at work and ask them about the problems that they are having — the problems that you are there to solve — How often do you think about the following?

  • Is the person recently married?
  • Is he going through a divorce?
  • Is she having a child?
  • Is he having an affair?
  • Is her mother ill?
  • Is his father dying?
  • Does her son have cancer?
  • Is his daughter going through a divorce?
  • Was her best friend hurt by her boyfriend?
  • Is he spending enough time with his children and wife for them all to be fulfilled?
  • Is her husband fighting in a war overseas?
  • If you are speaking with a man, what role does his gender play in how he considers his relationship with you?
  • If you are speaking with a woman, what role does her gender play in how she considers her relationship with you?
  • What about your own gender? What about your sexuality? Do these have an impact on the way that you work with others?

Are any of these things less important than the work at hand?

There’s a phrase you’ll sometimes hear at work: “Leave your personal life at the door.” Good leaders will do their best to do that, but not everyone can be expected to be so skilled. If you expect everyone to be able to let go of the most important things in life when they walk into the office, you are fooling yourself. Remember, as universal and important as work is in our culture — and while it provides a wage that allows us to live in our commercial world — you can, in fact, live well enough without work, as many people on this planet do, and have done, for eons. You cannot, however, live well without love.

When you are in the business of solving problems — which is, in fact, what people in software engineering and information technology get paid to do — you will not succeed without taking people’s psychological state into account. Love — whether romantic, familial, or otherwise — is arguably the most primal component of our psychological well-being.

Not too long ago, I was asked to speak to two groups of project managers for a professional development conference. At the top of each presentation, I asked the audience to identify the top three and bottom three skills for project managers. The list contained six skills. Five of these skills were uniformly found in ten different lists of top ten skills for project managers that I found online. These five skills were:

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Negotiation
  • Risk Management
  • Scheduling

Keep in mind that ten different people or organizations agreed that these five skills were of utmost important to project managers. None of them could actually be considered unimportant in any way, shape, or form. This was a trick question!

The sixth skill, which I selected for inclusion in this little survey, was not on a single top ten list that I could find. That skill?

  • Psychology

The survey was administered to two groups of 32 project managers. There were strikingly similar results in each group:

Group 1 results
Group 2 results

Both groups of project managers uniformly picked Communication, Leadership, and Negotiation as the top three skills for project managers.

But the bottom three skills? Psychology, Risk Management, and Scheduling.

Remember, Risk Management and Scheduling can be routinely found in many top ten lists of skills for project managers. Credit is due the respondents for including Psychology in the middle of the pack, even though it merely made the top of the bottom three skills. I could be a cynic and interpret these results as implying that Psychology is the number one unimportant skill, but a fair number of each group put Psychology in the number three position, implying otherwise.

Nonetheless, there was agreement among the bulk of these respondents that Communication, Leadership, and Negotiation were more important than Psychology.

Is that a surprise?

For any of you out there who don’t think that Psychology is the most important skill that a project manager — or, frankly, most anybody in a role to solve other people’s problems — can have, please take a moment to ask yourself:

  • How can you communicate if you don’t understand what your audience is going through?
  • How can you lead if you don’t understand the people you are leading?
  • How can you negotiate effectively if you don’t understand the unique perspectives and current mindsets of the involved parties?
  • How can you manage risks if you don’t understand the mindset of the people who can bring about change?
  • How can you schedule with great effectiveness if you don’t understand what your resources are going through?

As I pointed out in my third post here, there has been almost too much written about empathy. If you have gone through good leadership training, you have, no doubt, been taught of its importance. But as we apply empathy, do we always go as deeply as we should to consider the psychological — or, the love — condition of the humans we serve?

If you yourself know that love is the most important thing in your life, why might it be so easy for you to carve that out of your view of others? I suggest that this is a frequent sign of invisibleism. Reflect on the cell phone scenario of our August 27, 2020 post for a moment. Doesn’t that have everything to do with love?

The problem is that love is such a deeply personal thing, and we are not often privy to its details outside of our own purview. On your journey, keep in mind how private you keep your own love matters. It’s safe to assume that others are doing the same. But if you assume — correctly — that love is the single biggest driving force in people’s lives, you will begin to find indicators.

  • Someone not interested in talking to you for several days?
  • Someone need to leave work unexpectedly and postpone a meeting?
  • Someone generally unhappy?
  • Someone incredibly happy and distracted from work?
  • Someone doesn’t care to learn the new software you wrote or deployed?
  • Someone refusing to take the time to read your training materials about phishing?

In situations like this, how might love be involved? You may not be entitled to details, but you are entitled to consider what’s behind these behaviors. The empathic and compassionate are more likely to be able to figure out what’s going on, and that information just might provide the insight needed to approach work situations more effectively.

If you empathize about only one aspect of people’s lives, make it love. You’ll be sure to get something valuable back for your investment.

Discuss this specific post on Twitter or LinkedIn.

🎹 Music for this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dhkx6CAEXfU.

[Logo]
Categories
Invisibleism

Are You an Invisibleist?

Not too long ago, I was asked to sit on a diversity and inclusion panel at a conference to offer my thoughts on these topics in front of a few hundred people. My colleagues on the panel represented a vibrant rainbow of the human spectrum: Black, Latino, Woman, Disabled, Veteran, Gay, Asian, and more.

Why was I, a white male executive, on a diversity and inclusion panel? Read on, friends.

The group of us had prepared in the days prior to be asked questions by a moderator, and we had planned to speak in turn according to a loosely-defined script. We were each miked-up, headed out onto stage in front of our audience, and we were individually introduced by our moderator with a brief professional biography.

From there, things didn’t quite work out as we had planned. This was, for the most part, perfectly OK. The panel hit a passionate groove; the dialog was dynamic and interesting; but topics got covered in an organic manner, rather than in the manner in which we had planned. Discussion ranged from racism to sexism to classism to sexual orientation discrimination, and all of the sort of stuff that you expect in a diversity and inclusion discussion. Forty-five minutes in, most everyone on the panel had talked.

Except for me.

Inside, I had developed an unexpected uneasiness about people who were left out of this discussion, and I, too, began to feel a desire to go off-script.

I opened my mouth and started to talk, but it sounded to me like my microphone was no longer working. I humbly asked:

Is my microphone working?

And something quite unexpected happened. Three hundred people laughed. Laughed!

It took me but a second to figure out why: it was clear from the room dynamic that most people thought I was not there to speak as a person of diversity, but rather as a token white male executive, and that my comment about my microphone was a moment of irony. But you see, my biography did not include the fact that I was gay.

In that moment, I chose not to focus on that. Instead, I offered an observation that I want to offer you now, about what I consider a common and unwitting form of discrimination that I have come to call invisibleism.

Most of the panel — and the audience in the room that day, for that matter — had been focused on a discussion about discrimination against things that are relatively easy to discern, such as race, gender, age, and sometimes class. Gender identity and sexual orientation are always part of these discussions too, but at events like this, there is a general proclivity against discussing them because they aren’t so corporeal as the others, and people don’t like to have lengthy public discussions about things that involve a potential lack of clarity. These topics are called “delicate” for a reason!

Because of my background, I have developed a sensitivity to willful ignorance of people’s invisible traits, and I asked the audience to consider not just what they see, but what they do not see.

When you look at a person, you may instinctively be able to discern their race, their age, and even their gender (the latter having become something less clear as times have progressed, of course).Your reactions to these characteristics are what will classify you as a racist, ageist, or sexist.

But what about your reaction to characteristics like these?

  • Psychological conditions (Depression; Borderline Personality Disorder; Bipolar Disorder; ADHD ; Anxiety; Panic; Postpartum depression; PTSD; Insomnia; Dementia; Sleep disorders; Narcissism; Autism spectrum; Asperger’s; OCD)
  • Addictions (Alcohol; Narcotics; Gambling; Eating; etc.)
  • Introversion/Extroversion
  • Personal biases (which themselves are invisible) (Sexism; Racism; Ageism)
  • Illness (Cancer, etc.)
  • Life changes (Loss of loved one; New child; Newly married; New job; Fearful of losing job; Recent terminal diagnosis; Recent recovery)
  • Pressures (Children; Marital stress; Financial stress; Doctor appointments)
  • Family situation (Married; Divorced; Children; No children; Widowed)
  • Self-confidence level (High/willing to be wrong); Average; Low/pretends to know everything)
  • Relationship with boss (Good; Mixed; Bad; Is the boss)
  • Happiness with occupation (Loves it; Ambivalent; Hates it; Loves it too much)

These all take quite a bit more work to discern. How do we discern them at all? I can assure you that if you practice the foundational values we discuss on these pages, you will improve your ability to do this:

  • Vulnerability & Humility: We show our own weaknesses and make it clear that we understand our role as humble creatures in a large universe; others are more likely to open up to us.
  • Empathy: We take the time to look deeply at people and consider the variety of reasons they respond to the world and our interactions with them; we develop an ability to more accurately read between the lines to see what might be going on in their world.
  • Patience: This takes multiple conversations over time!
  • Compassion: We develop trust by going out of our way to help even when it might be an interruption.
  • Curiosity: We invest the effort to care to find out what’s really going on with a person.
  • Commitment: We don’t give up on all the above.
  • Willingness: Most importantly, we are willing to do all of the above because we know this will help us better serve that person’s needs.

How often do you do all of the above in order to better understand a person?

If you are eliciting requirements — and as I stated in my third post here, all jobs involve eliciting requirements to one degree or another — and you do not do these things, I suggest that you might be an invisibleist. This is as deep and harmful a form of discrimination as any other, and it has arguably caused much unaccounted damage to humanity over the centuries.

The next time you find yourself angry when a person disregards your idea, declines a meeting with you, or uses a cell phone during a meeting, how will you take inventory of what might really be going on?

Let’s play out a scenario:

Imagine that you are on a Scrum team presenting in a Sprint demo, and your Product Owner is distracted, texting on his cell phone.

How would you handle this?

Would you:

  1. Ask him to stop using his cell phone.
  2. Pause the demo to wait for him to finish texting.
  3. Take him aside afterward and respectfully ask him if he could avoid that in the future.

Those are the most common answers I hear in regard to this scenario. Which one would you choose?

I will share with you that I once served as Scrum Master for a team where this happened. What if I told you that none of these responses would have been remotely appropriate or helpful for the situation at hand?

What if I told you that your Product Owner had a son who was in the process of contemplating suicide?

You didn’t expect that, eh?

This is invisibleism at play.

It is possible to cultivate a workplace where invisibleism is addressed with the same vigor we apply to racism and other forms of discrimination. Study the culture at companies like Auticon, a company that specializes in hiring and cultivating autistic talent in a powerful way to provide top-tier software quality assurance services, for starters.But most importantly, apply our eight foundational values, and always — always — look deeper for what you are not seeing. Do not settle only for what you can see.

There is a power in every position that a human being can have along a multitude of spectrums. Will you commit to slowing down and searching for it?

And the next time you see a white male executive sitting in a diversity panel, what will you think?

Discuss this specific post on Twitter or LinkedIn.

🎹 Music for this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3o-iZ_GfTTs.

[Logo]