Catch the ball….

Hello friends,

If you are like most businesses in Alberta, we are as busy as ever, which makes this leadership blog pretty helpful for all of us. This blog ties to “better connecting” with others using the “catch the ball” technique.

As a manager at any level, we are continually faced with making decisions and listening to the valuable feedback from our co-workers, other leaders, partners, and vendors. In an expanding and growing business, the pressure to perform and deliver results as expeditiously as possible is extremely high. You may feel that you have to get your opinions out there as quickly as possible just to keep up with the chaos! Well, let me introduce you to a term a former CEO taught me…… he said…. “Andy, sometimes you just need to catch the ball…”

I was like…. What? People need to keep up… we have lots to do and never enough time to do it.

Now this was over 10 years ago and I have matured significantly in my leadership style, but recently, I was reminded of that lesson from over 10 years ago.

Let me explain.

The catch the ball analogy is a reference to the game we play when attempting to communicate. We have a sender (the thrower) and a receiver (the catcher). Generally, the sender says something (i.e. throws the ball) and the receiver then listens to what the sender said. Now, here is where it gets interesting. In a calm environment, this works very well. Kinda like playing catch with your son or a friend. The ball goes back and forth and we are generally having fun with the friendly banter…. Back and forth and back and forth – healthy discussions.

Now, let me introduce some new ingredients — we’ll call them business obstacles:

  • Firstly: let’s add personality types — extroverts vs introverts, thinkers vs risk takers, leaders vs supporters, practical vs theoretical
  • Secondly: let’s add passionate people to the mix. I’m talking about people that can offer experiences outside their core role. For example, I know everyone in an organization has an opinion about a website. Right from artistic creation and layout to the messaging around it and what should be emphasized. Try talking with delivery people and sales people and management. Each group will have a very passionate opinion about everything.
  • Thirdly: let’s add expectations… last I checked there are 100 or more different ways to climb Mount Everest, but depending on whom you talk to, their way seems the best.

I’m sure some of you are starting to laugh by this moment, as you can see this as the beginning to disaster.

My former CEO said just catch the ball and here is what he meant…

Sometimes you don’t need to throw the ball back to the sender. Sometimes just catching it is enough. Imagine if you threw the ball back right away and the sender wasn’t expecting it? You can potentially nail him in the head! Then, you got one hell of an angry person and he might be throwing something else at you that has nothing to do with the original ball he threw. Result = angry person and regretful comments — in some cases career limiting comments.

Now, even if the sender caught the ball you threw back, the sender might feel that you are not listening to them. He might think you are opinionated and are not a good listener. What I have realized here is that it doesn’t matter if you have the right solution/answer to the question. The fact that you gave an answer so quickly results in a situation that people don’t feel heard. It doesn’t matter that the topic is something you have been thinking of for months…. they don’t know that! This is where emotional hi-jacking can take place too.

It has been my experience that if I practice catching the ball more often….. looking at it and thinking about what the sender was trying to communicate with me, my actions result in better connection with others. Even though I might end up saying what I would have said right away, holding the ball for 1 hour or 1 day gave me time to “respect” what the sender was saying, allowed any hostile emotions to subside, and ultimately made the sender feel that I am listening to him/her. Surprisingly, there are times that my answer changes given more time to reflect on what the sender is truly saying. Sometimes asking clarifying questions will help me better understand the root problem as well. How many times have each of us offered an answer quickly, just to find out that we were answering the wrong question!

So, my esteemed followers. Lets’ try catching the ball more instead of being in a hurry to throw it back. We’ll probably be more productive in our leadership lives if we do this simple technique. The only alternative to this is to do “damage” control if/when things go sideways. Trust me…. If we apply this at home, we will have a better relationship with our spouses as well. I think a book called Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus… comes to mind. LOL

Lessons learned from a happily married man with a relatively good business career:

  • Doesn’t matter if you have the right answer. It’s about managing the perception of being a good listener.
  • Slowness is OK for the greater good —- Patience will be tested but can lead to greater trust
  • Time will allow parties to get in control of their emotions.

Thanks for listening and if you have found this valuable, please share this blog with others!

Leadership Quote of the Month:

“You don’t have to swing at everything–you can wait for your pitch.” – Warren Buffett

Have an awesome day and make a difference!
– Andy


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