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Are You a Fixer or a Listener?

Organisations have this habit of asking people to show up in a way they cannot, so we send them off to trainings. We then put that "failure" into their performance review, saying, "They cannot show up the way we wanted them to." We should put a mark *genetically unable.

My question is, why do we continuously put people in positions where they will fail us? And here I am, not talking about being able to do the job. Although wrong selection does that very well.

I am talking about the expectations of personality change. We ask people, especially leaders, to be more empathetic when they are not (a tenth of empathy is genetic). We ask them to be more outgoing, outspoken, creative, chatty or less chatty, interested in people, or to socialise more with their teams when they are not built for that.

Another one I love is when we ask and train leaders "How to listen better". Now, do they need to listen? Sure! Will they if we teach them? They may get marginally better at it, but they will never be as good as a natural listener because it is also linked to certain genetic components (strategic thinkers tend to listen well because they need information to make decisions).

There are three types of people:

  • Can listen without the need to give advice or have the urge to fix your problem

  • Cannot just sit there and listen to your problem without wanting to fix it

  • Can do both well, and you need to tell them what you want them to do

Instead of forcing people to change their nature, why don't we identify who possesses which characteristics and choose the person we want to talk to accordingly?

If you want somebody to listen to you, go to the person who can listen. If you want somebody to solve your problem, go to the person who can fix it for you. If you want somebody with empathy, find that person instead of expecting somebody to be one. Some people will give you tough love, and some will tell you it is okay. It is up to you to know which one you need and find the person accordingly and not the person to change for you. It is a much easier way to get what you want and saves the person from the torture of doing something that doesn't come naturally (often with a poor outcome).

My partner is a fixer. I tell him something, and he has twenty solutions in under a minute. I told him many times that I knew what to do I was just telling him this, and all he had to do was listen. We tried:-) His body language changed:-) The urge to say or do something was showing:-) He left the house but an hour later sent a message telling me how to address that problem:-) I laughed. At least he tried:-)

Expecting people to do something unnatural to them, attempted to be remedied by one-off training, is the definition of sabotaging them. To make a naturally not great listener into a good listener takes years of training, and we don't invest that much in people, so it is only fair not to set them up for failure.

It is time that we started looking at people who they are and leveraging their abilities instead of playing construction crew all the time, trying to fix everyone. But for that to happen, talent development professionals must be able to differentiate learned behaviours from traits that are genetic-based.

PS: If you ask me, I would take everything off that list of "How to be a great leader" that are genetic-based characteristics and put them into team competency. Communication is one of them. I know fantastic leaders who are awful at communication, but they hired their #2 who are fantastic at it, and they do it for them. Competency frameworks are designed for teams, not for individuals.

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