Listening and Relating
Civil Engineer –
There is a half glass of scotch on a table. The Arts student says that it “symbolizes unfulfilled emotions”. The Science student starts calculating the exact percentage full. The Engineering student goes up to the glass, drinks the scotch and asks, “What’s the question?”
We could post engineering jokes all afternoon. You know the ones, the smart guy/gal with no sense of humor, zero personality and a negative emotional IQ. We could laugh till our sides hurt. Part of what makes engineer jokes so funny is that there is a vein of truth. How much truth? What percentage of truth? If we are all emotionally stunted geeks what happens when we leave the office? More importantly, how do we relate to our clients (non-engineers)?
I have spent the last eight years working towards my Masters of Divinity/Chaplaincy degree at Denver Seminary. Almost every non-engineer I meet will make a crack like, “how hard is it for you to get in touch with the other side of your brain?”
To be honest, that comment and comments like that use to rankle me. The reason it bothered me so much was because it pointed to a big truth concerning my real self. I could awkwardly put on my “go to meeting” mask for an hour or so. This required me to smile, make direct eye contact with the people around a conference table, and participate in conversation. The technical conversation was not the part I worried about, it was the social conversation that took place while waiting for others to arrive. Do I use humor? I didn’t want to say anything that someone might take offense at, or worse, have to explain the joke.
This is how my Master’s work has improved me socially as well as boosting my confidence. During one semester I had my Clinical Pastoral Experience at Porter Hospital. During that semester I had a 5-hour weekly class and logged 200 hours at the hospital (and worked full time). The Chaplain’s secretary would give me a patient list for everyone on a floor and then I would make rounds. It probably took 175 hours before this became something close to comfortable. I would walk into the room, introduce myself as the student chaplain and wait to see if I was going to be accepted or thrown out. I did get thrown out of 2 rooms. All of the other contacts I made turned into a conversation that ranged from 10-minutes to an hour. Of those conversations there was a significant portion of the patients that wanted prayer. Let’s face it, hospitals are scary and even the bravest of souls want some reassurance from the Big Guy upstairs once visitors leave and the place gets quiet.
How did this engineer learn to be an effective Chaplain?
The most important lesson was learning how to listen. You can’t listen until you stop talking. You can’t listen if you are thinking about what you are going to say next. You can’t listen if you are feeling defensive or have checked out of the conversation or are looking out the window watching the construction crane. To listen well requires intentionality. One must “intentionally” stop everything and give your full attention to the speaker. This requires eye contact and focus. Don’t cross your arms across your chest. Keep your body relaxed and take mental notes. When you get your first opportunity to speak don’t jump in there with an answer – ask a question. Ask a question to make sure that your interpretation of what was said is indeed the speaker’s intent. Ask a question for additional information that you will need to make a reasonable response. Do not interrupt the speaker.
What is emotional intelligence?
This is a fairly new term within pastoral and counseling fields to help quantify one’s emotional IQ. What emotions are being expressed by the speaker? Is the person happy, agitated, angry or excited? Often times, I would walk in to a room and the patient would be agitated with the nurse or the doctor. They were upset and expressed it in their spoken language or their body language. Sometimes I was used like when a child tries to pit one parent against another. My job was to attempt to diffuse the situation, calm the patient, and best case scenario, full resolution of the situation. Sometimes, it wasn’t patient vs. hospital staff but patient vs. family member. Generally, we knew what we were walking into because the nurses were the ones calling for help.
Emotional Intelligence is my ability to discern, use and manage my own emotions, and the emotions of those around me. When fireworks are going off in the room between two people, I need to be able to quickly and correctly access who is feeling what and be able to ask succinct questions to make quick determinations. If I emotionally shut down when someone in the room is hysterically angry or if I were to respond with hysterical anger, then I have lost everything in that moment. I have lost the confidence of all involved, including the opportunity to have a favorable outcome. Remain calm, discern the mood and ask good questions that move everyone to an amicable outcome.
Being the Chaplain in the room has an authority associated with it. Once in the ER with a lady waiting to be wheeled up for an emergency heart procedure, I said, “Let’s pray.” It was the first time I visibly saw my Chaplain authority because everyone in the room immediately stopped, bowed their heads and waited for me to offer the prayer. Having a semblance of authority (which sometimes is just a confidence factor) is just enough of an edge that gives you the credibility to speak into the situation and move people past their concerns. I am using my emotions to reason with the emotions of others. You could also say that I am managing the emotions in the room.
What will it cost you to grow?
If you are the typical introverted engineer the cost will seem very high. You might even feel like it’s too painful to try. You don’t have to do it all at once. Learning is generally a gradual process – unless you get thrown in to the deep end of the pool, right? Begin by working on your listening skills and gradually start wading into the emotional waters.
Getting a handle on relating well with others (above and below you) will ease the stress of the work relations. You will become a more effective team member. Listening well and asking questions will help you bring more clarity to the issue at hand and everyone’s contribution will be more effective thus saving money for the company. Those times when tempers become hot you can manage the emotions and move everyone to a place where the work continues with no hard feelings. This improves work relationships within and outside your team.
As a result, you may well find that your mental and physical health will improve. So, while it is hard to step out of your comfort zone you may find that as a result your happiness level increases. When our happiness goes up the stress goes down. This is infectious to those around you. People don’t like to work with stiff shirts. They much prefer the personable, optimistic and happy person. Believe it or not, the happy team will always get more work accomplished than the anxiety ridden team.
You don’t have to become an extravert to become successful at this. Listening is a tool, asking good questions is a tool and moving people past their objections is a tool. As you grow, the idea is to add more tools to your tool belt thus becoming a more agile team player, mentor and manager. While this has been aimed at your business life, know that these simple principles carry over to your personal life, your social life, etc.