Confessions of a So-Called Expert

When I was 12 my dad brought home a vinyl LP record containing a live lecture on life skills by a well-known New York psychologist, Dr Murray Banks. I was fascinated by the ideas and the light-hearted way these were communicated. As I repeatedly listened to it, I remember thinking “what an awesome way to earn a living”. Fast forward 50 years and I am grateful to have been able to study and share my own insights on the psychology of business and everyday life. But knowing about something doesn’t necessarily make you good at it. For instance, I spend most of my time writing and talking about communication and relationship skills, but I occasionally marvel at my personal ineptitude in these areas.

When it comes to maintaining good relationships, two particularly important skills are not making assumptions about other people’s motives; and listening carefully to what they are saying. I’d like to share two relevant but slightly embarrassing incidents, and then give you access to a high quality free resource on these topics.

Photo of man in church confessional.

Let’s start with not making assumptions. For several years I have been a diligent member of the International Franchise Association’s Franchise Relations Committee. At the start of this year I received a spreadsheet listing the Committee members and their attendance record, a sort of roll call. Next to each member’s name was a mixture of X’s and blanks — except for mine, which had a blank row extending right across the page, bar one lonely X. I was taken aback and embarrassed as I thought it made me look like the biggest slacker on earth! For the next two hours, with a sense of self-righteous indignation, I looked up every set of meeting minutes for the last three years, noting that my name was included, and cross-checked these meetings against my diary. My records showed I had attended almost every meeting.

“Maybe they don’t like me because I’m Australian and someone wants to embarrass me so I will resign”, I thought, attributing all sorts of motives to the Committee’s organisers. Deciding I needed to set the record straight, I worded a polite email explaining that the spreadsheet did not match my memory or records.

I am glad now that I considered the wording and tone of that email, just sharing the facts without expressing any of my conspiracy theories, because a few days later I received a short note from the Chairperson. “Hi Greg, Happy New Year. Just to clarify, the X is for an absence of a member from a meeting. So you are correct, you have only missed one meeting. I look forward to seeing you at the next meeting.” Reading this email made me laugh out loud. What an excellent reminder about the folly of jumping to conclusions concerning other peoples’ motives, and the benefits of always sharing concerns with facts. It also reminded me why one of my franchisor clients often recommends his support team and franchisees to hold strong opinions loosely. Great advice I reckon.

My next confession relates to a podcast interview I did with a franchise consultant. About a quarter of the way in, the interviewer asks me to talk about my Franchise E-Factor relationship model. As I explain to him and the listeners how the biggest cause of conflict in franchise networks is people’s poor listening skills, the interviewer asks if he can share an anecdote on this point from his own experience. And now, listening back to this interview, I start to cringe because I am so caught up explaining the importance of listening carefully to others, I fail to hear his request and leave him hanging for five minutes, waiting for some acknowledgement. When I finally pause for a breath, he meekly asks again if he can share his anecdote, at which point I mumble some sort of agreement. What an embarrassing reminder of how easy it is not to listen to others because we are so caught up with what we want to talk about! It seems the closer we get to being an expert in an area, the more at risk we become of ignoring its practice in our own lives. That’s why one of my favourite sayings is “The cobbler has no shoes”.

I started this Tip referring to a psychologist who made a big impression on me as a young boy. Another psychologist and mentor who has had a huge impact on my work over the years is Dr Bob Dick. Coincidentally, while I was working on this Tip I received an email from Bob with a link to an e-book he has generously written on the psychology of relationships and communication. If you want to read about these topics from a true master, and avoid the pitfalls of making assumptions and not listening properly, you can download it for free here.

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