“This is Captain James E. Harris of the Data Quality Starship Collaboration...”
Clearly, I am a Star Trek nerd – but I am also a people person. Although people, process, and technology are all important for successful data quality initiatives, without people, process and technology are useless.
Collaboration is essential. More than anything else, it requires effective communication – which begins with effective listening.
Seek First to Understand...Then to Be Understood
This is Habit 5 from Stephen Covey's excellent book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. “We typically seek first to be understood,” explains Covey. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
We are all proud of our education, knowledge, understanding, and experience. Since it is commonly believed that experience is the path that separates knowledge from wisdom, we can't wait to share our wisdom with the world. However, as Covey cautions, our desire to be understood can make “our conversations become collective monologues.”
Covey explains that listening is an activity that can be practiced at one of the following five levels:
- Ignoring – we are not really listening at all.
- Pretending – we are only waiting for our turn to speak, constantly nodding and saying: “Yeah. Uh-huh. Right.”
- Selective Listening – we are only hearing certain parts of the conversation, such as when we're listening to the constant chatter of a preschool child.
- Attentive Listening – we are paying attention and focusing energy on the words that are being said.
- Empathic Listening – we are actually listening with the intent to really try to understand the other person's frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.
“Empathy is not sympathy,” explains Covey. “Sympathy is a form of agreement, a form of judgment. And it is sometimes the more appropriate response. But people often feed on sympathy. It makes them dependent. The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it's that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually.”
Some people balk at discussing the use of emotion in a professional setting, where typically it is believed that rational analysis must protect us from irrational emotions. To return to a Star Trek metaphor, these people model their professional behavior after the Vulcans.
Vulcans live according to the philosopher Surak's code of emotional self-control. Starting at a very young age, they are taught meditation and other techniques in order to suppress their emotions and live a life guided by reason and logic alone.
Be Truly Extraordinary
In all professions, it is fairly common to encounter rational and logically intelligent people.
Truly extraordinary people masterfully blend both kinds of intelligence – intellectual and emotional. A well-grounded sense of self-confidence, an empathetic personality, and excellent communication skills, exert a more powerfully positive influence than simply remarkable knowledge and expertise alone.
Your Away Mission
As a data quality consultant, when I begin an engagement with a new client, I often joke that I shouldn't be allowed to speak for the first two weeks. This is my way of explaining that I will be asking more questions than providing answers.
I am seeking first to understand the current environment from both the business and technical perspectives. Only after I have achieved this understanding, will I then seek to be understood regarding my extensive experience of the best practices that I have seen work on successful data quality initiatives.
As fellow Star Trek nerds know, the captain doesn't go on away missions. Therefore, your away mission is to try your best to practice empathic listening at your next data quality discussion – “Make It So!”
Data quality initiatives require a holistic approach involving people, process, and technology. You must consider the people factor first and foremost, because it will be the people involved, and not the process or the technology, that will truly allow your data quality initiative to “Live Long and Prosper.”
As always, hailing frequencies remain open to your comments. And yes, I am trying my best to practice empathic listening.