Learning to Listen

Long ago I once worked on a long, complex project where the manager I reported to was probably the most mismatched person for the job that I’ve ever encountered. The tragedy is that I didn’t realize that until much later, after I’d already started pulling my hair out in frustration.

He had a favorite expression he’d use during almost every meeting: “I’m wrestling with…” where whatever he was wrestling with was typically something that the other engineers in the room didn’t seem to have any real issues with. It took a while, but then I finally realized that it wasn’t just a figure of speech; he really was having a tough time with it. This person didn’t have an advanced engineering degree and very little hands-on experience with complex electronic equipment and the software necessary to operate it. His background was in network administration. Yet he had somehow managed to get himself into an engineering management role.

The whole experience really drove home to me the fact that people will tend to let you know early on how well they are suited to their current role by how well they handle the cognitive challenges within the problem domain of the job. And they do it unconsciously, all you have to do is listen to them.

I try to be a better listener these days.

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