If you listen to the whispers, you won’t have to hear the screams.
Regardless of who first expressed this thought (I’ve seen it attributed as a Cherokee proverb, a Sioux Indian saying and credited to Plato – take your pick), it is a good reminder in our “screaming age” that we have options other than out-shouting someone in response to different perspectives. What, exactly, do those options look like? Here are a few you might consider:
Walk into the FOG.
It is easy to ignore the FOG — Frequently Overheard Grumblings — because it is dispersed, here and there. When we try to grab ahold of it, to pin someone down about the grumbling, it often seems to fade away . . . until we pop over a hill and there it is again, lurking in the valley. The best way to deal with the FOG is to walk into it and publicly acknowledge its presence. “I’ve heard some people are . . . struggling to understand X . . . frustrated about Y . . . If you have more details about the concerns, I would appreciate you sharing them with me.” No one gets individually called out, but you get the information you need to respond appropriately . . . while it’s still a fine enough mist for you to move through.
First time is the best time.
Anyone who has raised a child knows that when a toddler makes a request, regardless of the inconvenience of the timing, if you choose to ignore them or brush off their plea they can quickly escalate from whispers to screams, tears and tantrums. All of us still have a bit of toddler impatience inside us, regardless of how grown up we may look on the outside. When someone makes a request/shares a concern and feels like they have been ignored, depending on the day and how their patience has already been tested, things can escalate pretty quickly. Even when you don’t think you have time to respond, addressing feedback the first time is the best time. Each time a plea has to be repeated, it gets louder and harder to find a satisfactory resolution.
Don’t join the screaming.
It is human nature to respond to intensity with intensity, but trying to out-scream someone is futile in terms of finding a solution. No one wins in a game of tit for tat. Instead, try diffusing the situation by lowering the volume, calmly acknowledging you heard them, and asking what they would see as a workable path forward. Don’t offer your opinion. Ask for theirs. Inviting someone to join you in problem-solving shifts their energy from working against you to walking alongside you.
It is a safe bet that if you are making leadership decisions, there is going to be someone who views the situation differently than you. Will you listen and respond to their whispers today, or prepare to deal with their screams tomorrow? The choice is yours.