By Mike Jiggens
Being able to effectively communicate with others is an overpowering skill which some possess and others lack. Those who are effective communicators often preside over a productive work team. Ineffective communicators, on the other hand, are apt to encounter disputes among co-workers and other setbacks which will negatively impact the team’s goals.
Kevin MacDonald, a coach, facilitator and communicator with The Coaching Department in Vancouver, spoke with golf superintendents in February at the Canadian International Turfgrass Conference and Trade Show in Vancouver about the means to more effectively communicate with others and to better handle “that difficult conversation.”
Superintendents, he said, not only have to regularly engage in conversation with their own workers, but with club members, managers and board directors as well. For those who are leaders of others, it can be scary to have that difficult conversation because they may be uncomfortable in general with such exchanges.
“In any organization that we go to, one of the biggest challenges that there is is not being able to effectively communicate with each other.”
MacDonald said his job as a coach is to help shift people’s thinking and get them to focus on what is really important. He cited the example of a single black dot, representing one bad thing, on a normal-sized white sheet of paper in which the white represents an otherwise sea of good.
“There’s not a lot of creativity in the black dot. There’s a lot of misery.”
The idea is to move away from the black dot and gravitate to the white space.
Those who cannot shift their focus from the black dot will often be unproductive and adversarial, and will prompt their leader into having to have “that difficult conversation” with them.
Listening is an important component of communication. MacDonald noted a pertinent quotation:â€ˆ“Genuine listening means suspending memory, judgment and desire and, for a moment at least, existing entirely for the other person.”
MacDonald said if a colleague approached him to relay a complaint, he doesn’t want to know who made the complaint but simply its nature. He doesn’t want to know who made the complaint until he has had sufficient time to think about it. If it’s someone who has made several complaints in the past, that takes into account the “memory” aspect. “Judgment” is becoming upset upon recognizing the identity of the individual who made the complaint. “Desire” is hoping that person would simply go away.
There is a conflict between the need to be right and the need to be successful, which, he said, is what triggers many divorces because of that overwhelming need to be right.
He recommended a book called The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, which details four concepts: be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions and always do your best.
“The words that come out of our mouths are powerful. If we understood how powerful our words were, you’d be very careful about what we say, but the truth is we live in a society where people are not careful at all.”
Some people, MacDonald said, will spew words from their mouths without consequence and will say just about anything.
“The truth is, whether you know it or not, those words are making a difference.”
In his book, Ruiz said words can either be magic or poison.
“The disease you can create with the words that come out of your mouth is probably a lot more devastating than the disease you’re going to get on one of your greens.”
Poison can turn up anywhere, both at work and at home. MacDonald said one form of poison is gossip in which a group of people will get together and talk about someone else behind his back. Gossipers usually don’t feel good about themselves and will want to knock others down.
“They want to make you feel as bad as they feel.”
The reason for wanting to poison one another is somewhat of a mystery, he said. Anyone who drinks poison will either get extremely sick or will die, which makes little sense.
“Are your words poisoning other people?”
Leaders, including golf superintendents, who poison their people may wonder why they’re not getting good results in their operation and will question why productivity is substandard. The superintendent may also wonder why his passion for the job isn’t shared by his workers.
“Don’t poison other people. More important, don’t poison yourself.”
MacDonald said those who tell themselves that they can’t, that they’re not able to, that they won’t or that they’re not good, are pouring poison into their subconscience.
In the golf course business, there may be board directors or club members who don’t see themselves as a success partner with a superintendent, but rather as his critic.
“They don’t even know that be being your critic, they’re getting less out of you. They think that on some level they’re going to get more out of you by being critical of you.”
Ruiz’s second point of note in his book was not to take anything personally.
“If you are one who takes things personally, you are like fertile ground for those people when they come in with their seeds of poison. They drop those seeds on you and you take things personally, you are like fertile ground for those seeds to grow.”
When one “drinks” more and more poison, he becomes the “poisoner,” MacDonald said.
Not taking things personally doesn’t mean not caring about results, he cautioned. It means that just because someone has formed an opinion about something or someone, it doesn’t necessarily make it right. Allow people to have their own opinions about things, he said.
MacDonald said it is also true that not taking things personally can work the other way. In other words, if someone hears good things being said about himself, he can lose sight of what’s true.
The lesson from Ruiz’ book about not making assumptions was also stressed. MacDonald said to always ask questions if there is something not clear, but added many won’t bother to ask because they feel foolish in not knowing certain things ahead of time.
Many superintendents have been leaders for so long they think everyone else knows as much as they do, MacDonald added.
One must ask himself: do I know that to be true or do I assume it to be true?
The fourth point Ruiz makes in his book is to always do your best. MacDonald said this means no less and no more. Not giving more than your best means not beating yourself up.
“Your best changes from day to day.”
One’s best following eight hours of rest isn’t the same as one’s best after only one hour of rest.
MacDonald told a story about a period in his life when he once managed a staff of about 100 people at the young age of 22. Several of those under his leadership were in their 50s and had been working in the profession for more years than he had been alive. He said he wanted his staff to like him and expressed his appreciation for them when things went well. But when members of his staff failed to meet their expectations, he said he felt uncomfortable addressing the matter and having “that difficult conversation.”
“It made me an inferior manager and a poor leader. Once I learned how to do it, it changed the game significantly.”
MacDonald said he learned to separate the person from the behaviour, suggesting it’s behaviour which should be attacked and not people. When we attack people, he said, it’s like delivering poison to them. We lose them and they become defensive. We lose their energy, commitment and passion.
Sometimes, the difficult conversation must be conducted and the longer it is put off, the worse it will be.
The conversation should begin with intention, MacDonald said.
He recalled having to intervene between two women on his staff whose disagreement with one another reached the point where they could barely stand to look at each other. Each of them could see only the “black dot” on the paper, he said.
Before getting to the root of the problem, MacDonald said he asked the women what they most admired about each other and asked what they wanted from the other.
“It was amazing how much they cared about each other and how much they believed in each other, but they had forgotten all that because all they could see was that thing they thought the other person had done to them.”
He said both women were wrong and had reduced their relationship to almost nothing because they had made assumptions of one another that were incorrect. In the end, the women had acknowledged the error of their ways and patched up their relationship.
When showing gratitude to people, good things usually come back. Occasionally, when things need fixing, perhaps it’s the leaders themselves who need fixing, MacDonald said.
He advised that if “poison” is thrown your way, to send “magic” back. Poison throwers hate that type of exchange and would rather have poison thrown back at them, wishing to get into an exchange of poison.
When one admits he is wrong, he has proved he’s human, MacDonald said.
“My job as a manager is to make you win. If you’re not winning here in this organization, I want you to win. Losing is not an option. If you’re not winning here, why is that?”
When questions are being asked, the person asking the questions is in control, he said. In a job interview, the interviewer is typically the person who asks the questions, but he suggested the interviewee is perhaps the one who should be asking “because he’s going to need to know if he’s going to fit that place.”
MacDonald encouraged superintendents, as leaders in the interview process, to learn more about the job applicants they’ll be meeting, including their character, the type of people they are and the difference they’re apt to make to the organization.
“Are they worthy of being there? Are they going to make you better or make this club better?”
He said that superintendents are “big deals” to newly-recruited employees, and a leader’s time with them is not just to tell them what to do, but to allow them to see the passion for the work a superintendent does. This permits the employee to see what’s possible in his own career. Even if the newly-hired employee is strictly seasonal help, the superintendent is encouraged to let him see what difference the work experience will make in his life.
The superintendent is the visionary, MacDonald said, and the one who sets the tone. He should never underestimate the power of assembling his staff into becoming a team.
He cautioned, however, that it’s easy to caught up in everything that happens at work and forgetting that are family members at home who require equal attention.
“We’re in a business where we’re so drained and there’s so much interaction with people and so much that we have to do, that maybe we’re not at our best when we get home.”
MacDonald admitted that being the spouse of a golf superintendent is not easy due to the demanding nature of the profession, and that often the superintendent may not have much left in the tank to give when he gets home at the end of the day.
Superintendents should not be afraid to let others know that they don’t know everything, he said. Top leaders are constantly learning and are open to finding out what they don’t know.
MacDonald said superintendents have the ability to communicate and to make a difference with the people in their lives. Their ability to have their message understood and to be able to understand the messages of others is paramount to their success in both business and life.
Even if a superintendent is not the most articulate speaker, it is important that he still gets his message across.
Superintendents are “transmitters” of information while those on their team are “receivers” who may not necessarily be tuned into the same “station.” MacDonald said it is the superintendent’s job as a communicator to find out if his followers are in fact tuned in and not, and should not readily assume they are.