The Problem

$37 Billion Lost Communication/Conflict  (Holmes)

Francesca Gino, Harvard Professor – “24% of employees feel curious about their jobs and more  than  70% said they faced barriers”

Amy Edmondson, Harvard Professor – “What’s in the way (concerns, worries,  barriers)?”


30%-40% of supervisors’ and managers’ daily activities are devoted to dealing with conflicts in the workplace

$700,000 is the average jury award in wrongful termination lawsuits

80,000 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission discrimination charges are filed annually

$162,000 is the average cost of litigating an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim

$58,000 is the average amount paid on a sexual harassment complaint

55% of employment claims result in money awards to employees

$2.7 million is the average amount of punitive damages awarded in employment cases

I have worked with companies where they saw the value of improving our ability to interact well and have empathy.  One company for which I worked gave us the Management By Strengths MBS color test.  Some of you might have used that one or something similar.  What that company required was for everyone to take the test and then post their results on their cubicle.

At that time, that assessment assigned you to categories like Red, Green, Yellow and Blue.  The Red people were what we might call direct.  They liked you to get to the point without a lot of fluff. Sometimes they might even hurt your feelings because they might cut you off.  How many of you can relate with being a Red?  The Green people were the extraverts.  Now keep in mind we all have a little bit of each color but if you ended up as a Red or a Green, etc. that was your primary type.  So the Green people talked a lot and they got their feelings hurt if others like the Reds cut them off.  How many of you here can relate to being a Green?  The Yellow people were the ones who liked to read the manuals and did well with numbers and quantitative things.  Sometimes they applied to be in sales, but they weren’t as fond of it as the Reds and the Greens.  How many of you can relate to being a Yellow?  The last group were the Blues.  They were the calm people who didn’t like to be rushed.  They were usually nice, I should say, but if you pushed a Blue too far, they might lose it.  But it wasn’t common for them to lose it.  Unless of course, you slammed your hand on their desk with a pile of folders and yelled I need these yesterday.   How many of you can relate to being a Blue?

Having advanced knowledge of everyone’s type helped us learn empathy and develop more harmonious relationships.  By understanding why people preferred certain behaviors, or responded better to a particular approach, it was easier for us to adjust to the way of interacting that would be most effective and well-received.

Communication issues are one of the most often cited reasons for problems at work.  When people can’t communicate well, there are disagreements, misunderstandings, conflict and a host of other issues that lead to problems with productivity.  If you are arguing with your coworker, take all of the time you are wasting and the time he or she is wasting and then add in the time your boss who has to deal with all of this wastes and a lot of time is money down the drain.

You might say that asking questions can help and you’d be right.  But it is not just about asking the questions, it is also about listening to the answers.  Sometimes we think we know answers and don’t even ask the questions.  The inability to truly listen well is a huge problem in the workplace. We teach this out of people at times.

I have been guilty of this. Let me explain. When I was a pharmaceutical representative I went through intensive training.  My onboarding took like two years…At least it felt like it.  They drilled into my head that I had to do these sales presentations that they called details. When we detailed a doctor, we were supposed to tell him or her about three products.  We were told this is nearly impossible to do because they are so unbelievably busy, that we knew we might only get time for one product detail, if that.  Having heard how challenging this was, put me a bit on edge.

I can remember one of my first times calling on a doctor by myself.  I sat in the waiting room for what felt like forever and finally when I was honored with the invitation to his office, I can remember getting through all three products.  I was so proud of myself.  I walked out of his office and headed to my car to get him some samples. I basically patted myself on the back the whole way because of how triumphant I was.  I got in the elevator to head down to my car and just before the door closed a man walked in with me.  Because I am an extravert, I cannot go two floors without talking, so I said, “so, do you work in the building?”  He looked at me with a horrified look and said, “you just detailed me.”  This was that same doctor.

I was mortified.  What I thought was great communication because I had told him about all three products, was not good at all. It was just about speaking at him.  I didn’t ask him any questions.  I didn’t involve his input.  I didn’t find out his pain points.  What I thought was the best thing turned out to be one of the worst things I could have done. It taught me the value of asking questions and listening to answers.  I often wonder how long it would have taken me to realize that if he had not gotten on that elevator.

The Solution

  • Leaders must recognize the cost of not improving curiosity, including how it impacts the bottom line.
  • Teams can avoid groupthink or status-quo thinking and develop more interesting outcomes if allowed to develop their natural sense of curiosity.
  • Paraphrase: Play the Telephone Game
  • Understanding the overall goals and mission of the company
  • Training for understanding of rules and regulations


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