Boise State on Business by Gundars Kaupins: Don’t write off the ‘morons’ around you — instead, just listen

GUNDARS KAUPINS, professor of management, College of Business and Economics at Boise State UniversityAugust 27, 2013 

Gundars Kaupins

Mary drives down the interstate and cruises at 75 for a while. A “moron” in front of her decides to slowly pass a truck. Mary is forced to slow down. She yells at the driver: “You ruined my cruise control.”

Mary’s behavior and attitude are unacceptable. It is not Mary’s right to endlessly go 75 on the interstate. Her prime duty is to be safe and respond to the drivers and conditions that are out there.

Company managers often feel they have a right to be on cruise control. People who change the company’s conditions or want to change them are obviously morons. They are worth a yell or defeat in some way. Common “morons” have been competitors, employees, legislators (or anything to do with the government), vendors, or lawyers (need I say more).

Responding to what’s out there is all about active listening. According to the Department of Labor’s job description website, the No. 1 skill that practically all managers need is active listening. The listener should be able to restate or paraphrase what he or she heard from the speaker. The focus is on listening to understand rather than waiting to speak, the other person rather than yourself, learning rather than ramming your ideology.

So you hate certain legislation that has recently been passed by the Idaho Legislature or the federal government, and it affects your business? You may have ideological barriers keeping you from desiring to learn features of the law. There may be trigger words, hard vocabulary and bias against those who passed the law that may limit your understanding of the law.

Understanding the law may be to your competitive advantage. You might find cost savings by preparing for it ahead of time, group discounts, exceptions, new markets, or help for your employees’ morale. Every law has a potential silver lining no matter which political party supports it. Hence, one way to set up active listening is to try to find the silver lining in something that you are opposed to.

Another active listening strategy is to take on the spirit of the people supporting the law. Pretend to be the greatest advocate for the law and learn enough about it to be able to share the information with someone else. Why have the supporters worked so strongly for the law? What are their assumptions?

The same activity can be done with competitors. Learn about why their product or service is better than yours. You might get so excited about what they do that you learn something about how your business can improve.

Every “moron” out there can provide a potential opportunity.

So digital morons have killed the 35mm camera? Now the digital age has led to mind-boggling shapes and sizes of cameras. New camera millionaires are being made every year.

So Web morons have killed the hard-copy encyclopedia? Who needs one type of encyclopedia when there is Wikipedia, Webopedia, the blogosphere, infinity and beyond?

So some new Web privacy law has passed, and because of the industry you are in, your business has to comply? Comply early, beat the competition, and show customers how serious you are about Web privacy.

The so-called “morons” who affect your business may be just the medicine that you need to help your business, if you just actively listen.


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