When I first started my career in technology I started where most guys do in this very competitive industry – at the ground level as a tech support agent. Years later I found myself back in the same position but that was a culmination of two lay-offs within a three year span and a job market that was saturated with a lot of qualified (sometimes over qualified applicants) but that’s another story I’m hoping to avoid today because the wounds and the financial heartache’s are still really raw.
But when I started my career in technology helping people troubleshoot issues relating to applications and software we supported I quickly realized that there is one hard, fast rule that can make or break your career: Understanding the issue completely from the client or customers perspective.
In order to completely understand the issue you have to master the art of asking questions. This was a skill that did not come easily to me because in my culture, asking questions is like telling the world that you are either to daft to understand simple instructions or it could be interpreted as a sign of insolence. In my world, both of those things applied – I am equal parts dim-witted and disrespectful and the combination of the two are a harmful for your career and life.
Working as a technical support representative taught me some very useful skills that have helped me advance my career as well as my writing. But the most critical component of the skill set for that job was being able to communicate and receiving information was every bit as vital as divulging information to resolve issues.
How does that transfer over to other aspects of my life? Well, according to Super Mom I still need a lot of work on my communication skills when it comes to being a co-manager in the daily affairs of Matua & Sons, Ltd., but I like to think that those same skills I used as a tech support agent do come in handy with the all-important title of ‘Dad’.
1) Listen – Or better yet, listen without distractions. Sometimes I am hearing you, but I’m not really listening to you because I have a million things going on in my head and I’m easily distracted by screaming kids, the screaming kids of other people, motorcycles, people riding on motorcycles, televisions, people in tights, people on tightropes…you get the picture. If we are not listening with real intent to understand the subject of conversation, any feedback we give (if in fact we do give feedback) will only be partially right because we don’t fully understand what is being said. It is insensitive and it says that you don’t really care enough to be engaged.
2) Reiterate – I remember one of my mentors in my first job telling me that if I can’t repeat what was said than I did not hear and therefore did not completely understand what was being said. There are many events in the past where I could have avoided disagreements with Super Mom, with my siblings, my parents, with friends and with others if I had just taken the time to understand and repeat what was being said instead of launching an all-out attack without merit. Reiterating is a great way to say, “This is what I’m hearing,” or “If I understand you correctly, this is why you are upset.”
3) Empathize – Nothing says, “I don’t care” more like completely ignoring a person’s point of view because you immediately judge the conversation to be inconsequential. Showing empathy does not mean that you are agreeing, it simply means that you care enough about what is going on which also translates to ‘I respect you and what you are saying is important to me because it is important to you.’ Many times I use this in the workplace but ignore that skill completely when it comes to my personal life. If anything, this should be hyper-sensitive when using this skill in your personal relationships because these are the ones where you invest more of your emotional self.
4) Invest – They say that ‘sharing is caring’ and when you have empathized in troubleshooting an issue you have also become invested in that relationship from beginning to end. A shrewd investor will want to see a return on their investment and it’s no different in relationships. When you have put your ‘emotional investment’ into a relationship you are essentially banking on a long-term, stable and sound investment rather than playing the market for a quick buck. Investing in relationships is the difference between buying a home to live in it until you retire or putting your money into a home that you know you’re going to flip in a year for a profit. The former means you want it the relationship to mature. The latter means you see an opportunity and you are just sticking around long enough to exploit it before you make a clean break for the next score.
5) Resolution – Relationships are complicated things. Take it from the guy who knows how to kill relationships faster than Round-up kills weeds. When resolving issues it takes compromise and an equal amount of humility from both parties. If one party is willing to give up something in order to fix something but the other is standing firm without any thought of concession and cooperation, the next disagreement will be even more difficult and more taxing on the relationship. The same goes for people who act as if they are conceding something for the sake of resolution, but really they are just relenting in order to end the controversy. Unresolved issues are like an untreated sore – over time it may seem to have healed but under the surface it’s become infected and will affect you more deeply than you realize.
I’m not an expert in these things – on the contrary, I’m still learning. But like all people who start on the ground level, there’s only way you can go from the bottom and that is up. Take time to nurture and cultivate healthy relationships. Healthy relationships give us purpose and allow us the luxury of having the love and support of others.