It was 3 am and I was in a deep Ambien induced slumber at a hotel in Dubai after a long flight from the US. I travel pretty well, but the drugs definitely help. The phone rang and I was in a different place and time, certainly not on this earth, as I answered – about to share my thoughts of displeasure with whoever was ignoring the instructions I left at the front desk not to be disturbed. But it was my wife and so I knew it was an emergency.
She proceeded to discuss the dynamics of a group that she led, all ladies. There were about 20 of them, mainly in their 40’s and 50’s. I listened as best I could as the cobwebs of sleep started to drift away. It was quickly obvious to me, as an experienced HR professional, what the issue was – they were simply not playing with each other!! Nothing very complex. With that in mind I began to share with my loving wife my thoughts on the subject, what I saw the core issues as being and offering several practical suggestions to help resolve them and bring harmony back to her world. What more could a wife want?
“I missed the moment when I asked for your advice,” she said. I was dumbfounded, which those who know me is a rare occasion. “I just wanted to process and that means having you listen to me, not trying to fix it.”
I had been taught a valuable professional and personal lesson. I am a quick learner so I resolved not to make the same mistake again. There is hope for men yet!
Fast forward 3 or 4 weeks. I am again in some far distant land (Australia I believe) and it is about the same local time after an even longer flight and, you guessed it, the phone rings and it is my wife. This time apparently my son had not paid for a college class on time, despite our sending him the money in advance, and had been dropped from the class – the details are unimportant. I was in full listening mode. I asked questions for clarification, I repeated back to her what I understood she had said – in short I used every skillful active listening technique known to man (or woman). Finally, with a clear sense of frustration, I heard the words “What you going to do to fix it?”
I protested that I thought she wanted me to listen but this time she really did want me to do something, she was not “processing.” So we developed a code that we use to this day when a major discussion is initiated. “Am I listening as a man or a woman?” In other words I am just listening or fixing?
This Sunday, a pastor whose church we were visiting, used the You Tube video “It’s not about the nail.” It is a shorter version of my own story. Both attempt to get across a clear message which is to understand the distinct needs of anyone who engages you in conversation. Ask the question about whether you are to listen like a man or woman stereotype and realize that sometimes it is not about the nail.
When two of my senior female HR colleagues heard my story, they came to me and asked permission to have (their words) a “girl chat” from time to time. This was their code that they wanted to share something with me so that I had background of perspective but that they did NOT want me to DO anything. It became a valued set of conversations which taught me a great deal.