Slowing down and listening is key
By Meg McKeen, CIC
On average, a human being processes between 10,000 and 30,000 words each day. You’ve just processed 11 after reading that last sentence alone! Pretty wild, right?
You also made an assumption based on the title of this piece whether or not reading it would be worth your time. If there’s music, a television, or a conversation playing in the background, there are now dozens more words for your internal processor to sift through, too.
We are forever in this loop—sifting through words to find those most pertinent. Sifting to find commonality so we can assign meaning to them … so we can keep on processing. It’s a lot, isn’t it?
A hard habit to break
It makes sense then, that just to keep up, we draw conclusions. And sometimes we jump to those conclusions!
We assign purpose to words—words that often weren’t shared with that intended purpose.
A classic case is one I confess to: I’m guilty of completing others’ sentences.
I assume they can’t recall the word they mean to say.
I assume, then, that I know what they’re going to say.
I assume the rapid pace of our conversation is one that works for them, too.
What’s worse is I often know it’s happening. My heart rate increases, I pause just before, and then I do it anyway!
Some of the assumptions we make aren’t so obvious and don’t carry a “you should know better” stigma with them.
We make assumptions when we’re sitting across the table from our star team member and slide that little slip of paper across the desk showing a double-digit percentage pay increase, only to arrive at the office the following Monday to receive that very same employee’s resignation.
How can this be? They nodded, smiled, and said thank you! That meant they were content, right?
It turns out that new opportunity came with comparable compensation, but also a defined career path. And for this high-achiever, money wasn’t the motivator driving their satisfaction.
If only you had known
You may be making an assumption when you see a member of your team putting in extra, seemingly unnecessary hours. You assume their workload is unjustly heavy, their processes need to be tweaked, and they’re feeling overwhelmed and even miserable as a result.
In actuality, they may be right where they want to be, with their work providing structure and purpose for them throughout their otherwise solitary day.
Alas, we each value work and life differently, and because someone is showing up in a way that wouldn’t work for you doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for them.
On many of our minds today is the debate for and against remote, hybrid, and in-person work. Now that organizations have declared their positions, employees are declaring their own.
Employees are living and working with the assumptions that have been made, curiously in many cases, by the individuals who’ve been least impacted by return-to-office requirements.
We assume the office perks are indeed perks.
We assume people have missed the camaraderie.
We assume people are more productive at the office.
But for the long-commuters, who for the last couple of years have had two extra hours back in their day, there are strong feelings about—and reluctance for—giving back those hours. And for the individual on the team who struggles to manage distractions, those never-ending pop-ins over their cubicle wall are anything but productive.
The opposite can be true, too, of course, as many people thrive in the office environment; they crave the energy and the structure it provides.
The takeaway? What most employees actually want is choice.
If only you had asked
The assumptions we make can have lasting and unintended consequences for our organizations when we consider the influence our employees have in the workforce today. Until we acknowledge these assumptions, we can’t begin to understand how nuanced concepts like work-life integration and remote work intersect the very real challenges we have in our industry today in employee recruitment, retention, and engagement.
The reality is that you don’t have to change a thing you’re doing. A boss, after all, is empowered to be a boss.
But today, many leaders are making a different choice.
As evidenced by our industry’s staffing challenges, employees value transparency from leadership, and we want their voices to be considered in the decisions being made that impact them. In many cases, employees simply won’t work in an environment where their needs aren’t considered and their values don’t align.
A different choice
If you see yourself in the words here, you don’t have to look far to recognize how assumptions impact your leadership decisions, as the greatest shift starts within you.
Just like my unfortunate bad habit of completing others’ sentences—that increased heart rate and change in my pulse is a clue. Can you listen to it?
And in this race to the finish line that no one can actually see, can you be intentional about stopping to check in with yourself and those around you? Can you slow down?
Before you respond to that email, or reply back in that conversation, pause and quiz yourself: “Am I making an assumption about the point/issue/need at hand?” Can you make a different choice?
I’ll offer you one of the most effective tools I can recommend: accountability. Can you ask for help recognizing when your assumptions sneak into your decision-making and perhaps offer accountability to another in return, too?
Meg McKeen, CIC, founded Adjunct Advisors LLC in 2018 with the simple belief that we can and must do more to support the individuals who choose a career in the insurance industry. Her experience working for more than two decades in underwriting, leadership, and sales within the industry fuels her work as a consultant today. Meg serves at the crossroads of personal and professional development for insurance professionals as they grow their sales and leadership acumen and organizations in the midst of cultural change. She delivers private coaching and consulting engagements, and hosts a podcast, Bound & Determined. Learn more at www.adjunctadvisors.com.