What happens when you talk less and listen more? You might be surprised.
I’m a six-foot-four, white, alpha male. Myers & Briggs invented a new scale of an extrovert for me. Generally speaking, this is a recipe for privilege, and I’m certainly not looking for sympathy. But I do want to share an experience with you.
I once surrounded myself with like-minded people who violently agreed on everything. Which meant I continually left meetings and workshops thinking, “That went well! No one said ‘No’ to my idea.” For years, that seemed fine.
As like-minded people who thought alike, we experienced a wonderful confirmation bias. It felt very convenient and seamless, but in reality, our ideas became mediocre. We were fast, but we went nowhere.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – Traditional Proverb
Let these two truth bombs marinate in your mind:
Great minds don’t always think alike.
Dysfunction is the gap between what you know, and what you do.
My dysfunction was that I knew about the value of cognitive diversity, but I wasn’t creating an environment where people felt safe to be themselves and to show their diverse thinking.
So I set myself a goal in 2019 to never leave a meeting knowing the same things as I knew when I entered the room. In part, that meant shutting up. It was a free, low-risk strategy. And it paid off.
5 things happened when I shut up
1. I sought out different opinions and started inviting different people to meetings
Whatever problem you’re solving, having different mindsets in the room will help you come up with a better solution. Identify two or more people who think differently than you do, who won’t agree with you. These thinkers will see the problem/opportunity and solution from a completely different perspective.
Most importantly, make sure these people have a chance to actively contribute. Diversity is the invite to the party. Inclusion is the freedom and space to dance. At Atlassian, we call this sparring. It challenges your principles, approach, and views, and helps you finesse an idea out of your world into the world of the consumer.
Diversity is the invite to the party. Inclusion is the freedom and space to dance.
2. Others had room to speak
That might seem obvious, but holding the silence was powerful. I saw my teammates bring more of themselves and their unique perspectives to the discussion. That doesn’t mean you never talk. But when you do speak, say things like: “Thanks for sharing that. Why do you feel that way?”
This opens up the conversation rather than closing it down.
3. I realized I’d been entering meeting rooms to present “my idea”
A mentor told me I was using the wrong association. That I should instead fall in love with the problem and the customer delight that would come from when I solved it. The advice was to take “my idea” into the room but to leave my ego at the door. After all, at Atlassian, we’ve got a value of “Don’t f&@k the customer,” not one that says: “Protect Dom’s ego.”
When you fall in love with solving for the customer, their delight becomes yours.
4. Our ideas improved
When we only pursued my ideas, they were always limited to my knowledge. When I let others jump in, the wisdom of the crowd made my ideas better. Try it. Share a 40 percent-baked idea in a meeting, then ask others how they think it can be improved. By the time you’re done, you’ll have something that’s far better than you could have come up with on your own.
In fact, it will no longer feel like your idea. It’ll feel like our idea.
5. I still felt empowered to make decisions
You don’t make decisions as a team. That’s the consensus. You make decisions as a leader. My approach (and one you can try) is “Disagree and Commit.” That is, I’ll listen to all opinions but I’m accountable for making a decision. Once we leave the room, whether we agree or disagree, it’s important that we commit to the decision and pursue it with passion.