We often rely on deep-rooted and often unsubstantiated opinions and perceptions of individuals and groups. David Pardey emphasises the importance of understanding your fellow managers and argues that the most successful managers approach new situations and opportunities with an open mind.
All too often we, as both managers and individuals, are guilty of underestimating the ability, experience, background and influence of the people we’re working with.
Whether we’re competing against them or collaborating with them, we frequently rely on pre-existing, deep-rooted and generally unsubstantiated opinions and perceptions of individuals and groups.
However, the dangers and consequences of taking this approach to working with others should not be overlooked lightly.
Such a limited perspective prevents us from approaching new as well as familiar situations with an open mind and stops us from judging an experience or person on their merits. As a result, we risk the chance of missing new opportunities, improving existing relationships and presenting our organisations and ourselves in the best possible light.
Taking action and addressing your mindset
So what steps should managers take to change their mindset? There are a number of ways you can take action to welcome every new situation and experience as a positive, new opportunity.
1. Take time to get to know the competition
Managers must ensure they make correct assumptions about those they are working with. The most effective starting point is to recognise your own assumptions for exactly what they are – assumptions. You can take a more objective view of your experiences by asking yourself how much of what you read into others’ behaviour is shaped by your expectations? Consider whether there are other, equally valid interpretations, of their behaviour, actions and decisions.
2. Consider the impact of different cultures on behaviour
When dealing with people from other cultures, you should attempt to understand the individual country or culture. Think about how their culture may cause them to behave differently to your norms or expectations. This will enable you to distinguish between your expectations and their meaning or behaviour.
3. Be prepared to challenge others’ assumptions
Be prepared to challenge team members’ assumptions. Encourage them to distinguish between what they have experienced and what they believe. It is easy to label other peoples’ assumptions as prejudice when actually it is a result of ignorance and partial information. As a peer, or as a manager, you arguably have a role to help individuals develop themselves and in their individual roles. A key part of this responsibility is surely to help them challenge themselves and their assumptions.
4. Understand your own strengths and weaknesses
It is all very well that you understand your peers and competitors, but to make your assessment of them truly worthwhile you also have to understand yourself. Ask yourself about your personal beliefs and attitudes, and what effect they have on your perception of particular experiences. This type of consideration is a key factor of being a reflective practitioner; it is important that you recognise the difference between what you experienced and what happened to shape that experience.
For example, if you believe a particular group of people tends to be autocratic in their manner, you will notice behaviour that confirms your assumptions and ignore any behaviour that does not confirm your assessment. A personal development programme that encourages reflective learning or exposes you to professional coaching may help to develop this ability; the structure it offers individual managers encourages questioning and challenging of assumptions. The goal should be that you learn to recognise when you are confusing expectations with reality, and you can develop autonomous reflective learning.
A key factor that will ensure you don’t underestimate your fellow managers is to make regular reflections on your experiences a regular part of your day-to-day work. Asking yourself simple questions, such as ‘what happened’, and ‘what is it about me that makes me think that this is what happened’ will enable you to make this reflection happen and learn from your experiences.
As with all behaviour changes, learning how to make accurate assessments of your colleagues and counterparts will take time, effort and practice. However, the rewards and the benefits for both you as a professional and your organisation’s reputation are there to be taken.
David Pardey is senior manager, research and policy, at The Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM). For more information on the ILM’s recent research, ‘Global Management Challenge: China vs the World’, go to www.i-l-m.com/research-and-comment/3428.aspx.