Learning the hard way!

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ~Alvin Toffler

Yesterday was one of those experiences that I will not soon forgot (at least I hope not). I was getting ready to leave the house when I remarked to my wife about the comment of our 13 years old about how clean the glasses were. As part of our ongoing campaign to reduce our energy consumption, we have started hand washing our dishes rather than use a very energy inefficient dishwasher.

doing the dishesIt seems that the glasses that I was washing did not meet his standard for purity. My wife asked me a rather simple question, “Do you wash the glasses first.” My immediate response was, “well of course.” Now I was thinking that what she was asking was, “Did i wash the glasses.” I am sure that i was a bit snitty in my response. After a few minutes passed, I realized that maybe my wife was asking a different question than I heard. So I asked her what she meant by the question. She said, “Oh, I was asking if the glasses were the first thing you wash before the water got greasy from other dishes.” I thought, oh was I ever wrong in my reaction.

This simple dialogue got me thinking. How often do I react to some simple interaction with someone else and never understand what they are really saying. In the case of the dish washing, I never thought about washing glasses first so her idea made total sense once I understood it.

If I react to someone’s questions about how I did something with either a very strong assurance that I was doing it right or some defensive response two things happen. First I have diminished my connection with the other person. They certainly do not want to continue with this dialogue with me. More importantly, I am cutting myself off from learning something new.

round quetion markHow often do I do this. Quite often. I have accepted the conventional wisdom that as a seasoned, experienced person, I should know some things better than other people. This arrogance can only lead to blindness. I will find a time when I either miss something or do something less than optimally. The consequence will not be particularly what I have in mind and may have a very strong impact on my relationships and success.

I also see this type of behavior in many of the executive I work with. Their peers and subordinates are often wary to point out anything that the executive would take as a criticism even if it is meant as a comment to help the mutual success of everyone. Today’s lesson is still reverberating in me and I am hopeful that I will not forget it.

What is your experience with reaction to others asking questions about what you do?

Until later,


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One thought on “Learning the hard way!

  1. Thomas,

    I was googling for articles regarding leadership and I happened to come across your website.

    I find this particular post interesting and this was my reaction: Sometimes, instead of being “sure” and assertively defending your opinion, if you actually listen and think about something, it seems like people are more quick to “walk all over you” or at least that’s the feeling that I sometimes get.

    Perhaps because we don’t want to look silly or feel like we are losing respect, we end up nurturing this habit without even realizing.

    Quick Background: I have recently graduated and am working at my very first job, so I’m pretty new and young in the company as well, so that could be part of the reason that people may not be taking what I say very seriously at times and I end up questioning myself about whether I should be more assertive when I answer.

    But I agree very much with your sentiment on how listening to others and taking them into consideration is quite important. It’s always easy to miss something very vital.

    Thanks and please keep blogging.


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