Little known secret about me: I love watching movies repeatedly to catch sometimes obscure, often hilarious, or even profound, thought-provoking lines from characters. One of my favorite movie quotes stumps EVERYBODY, even though it’s from a cult classic comedy of the 80’s – one of my genres of choice for great humor and irreverence.
The 90’s also served up a delightful menu of films characterized by iconic absurdity and biting satire, such is the case in the sports comedy drama, A League of Their Own, released in 1992. Landing at #54 on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Movie Quotes in American cinema is team manager Jimmy Dugan’s line, “There’s no crying in baseball!” to soft-spoken right fielder Evelyn Gardner when she threw a ball to home instead of second base and lost their two-run lead.
In an effort to offer levity during a tenuous situation, I used that movie quote with one of my clients, Hank, a team lead at a national IT corporation. During our last session, he shared a frustrating coaching moment with one of his teammates. Shaking his head in exasperation, he explained that every time he provided feedback to Tracy, one of his engineers, she cried. Tracy provides specialized, mission critical enterprise-level tech support over the phone and instant messaging app [IM] to high complexity global clients. She interacts with multiple stakeholders digitally and telephonically to troubleshoot outages and service disruptions; high stress situations in mostly sterile communication environments.
After Hank and I laughed about the movie reference for a minute, he relaxed but was still frustrated. His irritation stemmed from his opinion the whole situation in question involved two Millennials displaying lack of grit and thin skin-ness. Hank initiated spot-coaching with Tracy when one of her team mates approached Hank about an interaction they had via IM. Hank expressed annoyance with Tracy in general, and irritation that both engineers were acting like crybabies, indicating his own negative mindset is influencing his ability to effectively coach either one.
While Hank isn’t as harsh as Jimmy Dugan, Tracy’s reaction is the same as Evelyn’s. This illustrated two areas for discovery in our coaching: Hank needs a better understanding of Tracy’s mindset, beliefs, and behavior patterns, as well as deeper inquiry and awareness into his own and how they influence his coaching capability. It’s obvious their mindset, beliefs, and behaviors are worlds apart as evidenced by Tracy’s reaction, but achieving clarity in what and in how many ways is pivotal in Hank elevating his leadership and emotional intelligence.
With only the benefit of Hank’s description of Tracy, I had to draw conclusions to provide salient just-in-time guidance to Hank. His perception of Tracy illuminated the issue at hand clearly: she thinks she always knows what’s best for the customer because if the customer knew he or she wouldn’t be requesting Tracy’s assistance in the first place, she’s one of 3 female engineers on a team of 30, she’s defensive when she receives critical feedback and cried a few times, and as a kid she was taught to be direct and speak her mind but her delivery comes off as harsh and uncaring. A few facts sprinkled in with a lot of perception.
So… what to do about Tracy crying? Despite how much better he may feel by releasing his dissatisfaction and verbally accosting Tracy like Jimmy did with Evelyn, Hank can’t lose his temper and yell at her in a condescending and disparaging tirade. Instead, he must remember…
The blind spots of communication
Addiction to being right
Assuming that others see what you see, feel what you feel, and think what you think leads to becoming engrossed or attached to a singular point of view. When that happens you are unable to connect with another’s perspective, and you may end up using the ‘tell/sell/yell’ approach to convince other’s you’re right. Tracy may have an addiction to being right, and as her leader, Hank needs to also check himself and make sure he’s not letting Tracy’s addiction to being right trigger his own.
Failure to realize fear & distrust changes how you see & interpret reality…
…and how you talk about it. When you feel fear or threatened, you shut down and move into protective behaviors without realizing it. Perhaps Tracy feels unexpressed or subconscious fear or threat as a result of working in a male-dominated field where she has to overcome perceived gender bias. Unless Hank takes the time to probe and ask about her background, belief systems, and values, this is purely conjecture. The point is, he needs to stop making assumptions about Tracy and spend some time trying to understand her better. The more he understands her, her beliefs, and her values, the better he can coach her the way she needs and wants to be coached.
Inability to stand in the other’s shoes when they are fearful or upset.
Mirror neurons give you a view into what others feel, think and intend. When you listen deeply and turn off judgement to connect with others, mirror neurons are activated, aka empathy. In a state of fear or perceived threat, empathy disconnects and your ability to understand another’s perspective recedes. Hank must set aside his negative mindset and judgement about Tracy and be willing to hear her with openness and compassion. He needs to make a concerted effort to stand in her shoes and feel what Tracy feels, and think what she thinks to understand her intentions.
Assumption that you remember what others say…
…when you actually remember what you think about what others say. You drop out of conversation every 12-18 seconds to process what people are saying, and you often remember what you think about what another person is saying because that’s a stronger internal process. Your internal listening and dialogue trumps the other person’s speech. This is directly related to #3 above. Hank must keep in mind Tracy’s internal dialogue; her programming. Tracy’s paradigms about the world; her perspectives and perceptions, are a series of ingrained behavior patterns. Her perception is her reality, regardless of its validity. Hank must also consider how his own thought processes and beliefs influence what he hears Tracy say when she reacts to his coaching feedback. This leads to blind spot #5…
Assuming that meaning resides in the speaker…
…when in fact it resides in the listener. For Tracy to make meaning, she has to draw out what she thinks Hank is saying from her vault of emotional and decision-making experiences. Then she brings Hank into their conversation to make sense of what she heard. That’s why in her mind’s eye Tracy sees a totally different picture of what Hank is saying than what his mind sees. Meaning resides in the listener until the speaker takes the time to validate and link back to make sure both have the same picture and shared meaning. This blind spot, along with #1, are the two that cause the greatest conflict among teams.
Hank must take into account each of the blind spots to increase his effectiveness as Tracy’s coach. By doing so, he can change how he handles the situation. By changing how Hank handles coaching conversations, he just may be able to affect how Tracy reacts, or doesn’t react. Hank can’t change Tracy, only Tracy can change Tracy. But by turning conflict into conversation, Hank can potentially transform Tracy’s reaction into a response that is collaborative, cooperative, and empowering.
So when Tracy requires coaching again, like Evelyn did when she threw the ball to the wrong plate, Hank will be better equipped to provide on-the-spot feedback that elicits an ideal response. He’ll have a better understanding of his mindset, beliefs, and behavior patterns, and how they influence the outcome of the coaching session. He’ll be able to show empathy, compassion, and emotional intelligence that triggers Tracy to own her mindset, beliefs, and behavior patterns and improve her performance. Hank, like Jimmy Dugan, will be a better coach, and Tracy, like Evelyn, will respond better and be a happier, more engaged and productive employee.
Oh, and my favorite movie quote is, “The last time I saw a mouth like that it had a hook in it!” If you can name the movie and actor WITHOUT Googling or clicking the link I’ll send you a free copy of my book, Own Your Greatness!