Find yourself sporting an obnoxious habit? The pesky (or even downright rude) mannerism in others that drives you crazy jumps into utter abhorrence when you catch yourself doing it.
Unbearable habits may be a talking mouth (full of food), callous commands to waitstaff, or the maniacal clicking of a pen.
When you’re a business owner, the line between personal and professional is thin and I’m arguing there’s no room for unbearable habits.
As entrepreneurs observing and owning a rude habit in ourselves carries even more weight because the “what ifs” appear magnified. Flaws mess with our livelihood: causing us to lose leads, lose contracts, lose referrals. All the lifeblood of your organization’s success.
So what’s an entrepreneur to do when she realizes she’s got an Unbearable Habit in full effect?
I decided to break it in front of a brand-new audience. Live.
Let me explain.
Three days ago I admitted to myself I’ve developed the nasty habit of cutting people off in conversation.
My not-listening has been chronic. I was ready to fully face it.
Where I used to go to the place of self-scolding and berating, I’ve finally learned that it’s okay to be embarrassed, but the important thing is how it gets fixed.
Like the other habits I mentioned above, my habit of interrupting is a result of impatience. It’s me. Putting myself ahead of someone else in the conversation line. Because why? Because I’m special? Because I’m smart?
Egads not just because of the personal implications of losing the privilege of people opening up and conversing with me. Egads because in my profession, as a marketer, I fundamentally must listen to everything in order to hear what’s really being said, and what’s not being said.
How I Broke the Unbearable Habit
In an effort to shock myself into stopping the unbearable habit of interrupting, I walked into a workshop I was supposed to facilitate with one goal in mind: I was not allowed to assume I knew what was going to come out of the mouths of participants.
No premonition. No predicting. My work was to be honest with what I did know (and what I was hired to cover), to show up, to ask questions and then to shut my trap. Listen for whatever miracles or messes that might emerge.
Unattaching from the Unbearable
Going in and un-wrapping myself from managing the conversation was about as comfortable as sitting in a nearby raft watching the Titanic sink.
I walked into a tense meeting room. I could absolutely tell that a lot had been unearthed seconds before I walked in the room and was still being processed by attendees. The facilitator reiterated my suspicions (kudos to her!).
My first (nearly uncontrollable) urge was to say something, anything, to fix the room. To use humor. Of the self-depricating variety, to distract or gloss over something I had no real understanding of.
But rather than give in, I simply introduced myself and took a seat. All placid and calm face-like.
Under the table, I was digging my thumbnail into my index finger, commanding myself to simply sit quietly and listen for the spoken and the unspoken.
My brain screamed “FIX THIS! THEY BROUGHT YOU IN TO FIX THIS!”.
And as much as I wanted to obey the order to fix, I was actually brought in to talk about marketing. Not fix anything else.
Plus if I’d followed the order, I wouldn’t be holding to my goal of not-assuming.
As the workshop lurched forward, the attendees spoke with honesty about marketing. Describing it with words like “coercion”, “manipulation” and “feeling bad”.
Boy did I want to stop them. I wanted to tell them how their perception should be changed, and why, and manufacture results right then and there. The way that I done in a hundred other presentations.
During the course of the evening all I did was listen. To the bad, the good, and the ugly. My mind was like an Etch-a-Sketch that started to predict where an attendee was heading with her line of talk. And like an Etch-a-Sketch I simply shook it to clear it and to again open up to whatever was said next.
As hard as it was to not predict or manage or smooth over the conversation, I realized that because I was more present, each participant stayed present.
They used one another and the group for management, following the cues of the person before them, and adding their own language about the project’s mission, vision, and what they wanted their end-goal to be.
They also did a tremendous job when their target market came in to the meeting for an initial round of market research.
While many of the questions to the target were leading, the participants were receptive when instead of cutting off or predicting, I let the questions float out and down to the table, reframing them slightly for the target market (more translation than interpretation).
By the end of the workshop, it was apparent that the concept of marketing was something the group were open to re-exploring, with renewed enthusiasm. The same end-goal I usually strive for. But this time it just happened.
Benefits of breaking the habit in front of an audience:
- I didn’t have to force or manipulate the room into reaching that a-ha. They found it organically, and let their own honest truth and thoughts into the room. And I got to witness it.
- I talked about 60% less last night than normal. And the same outcome came out. Even better because I didn’t manufacture it.
- I didn’t have to think it through, didn’t have to manage, and didn’t have to force. And coming home after the workshop I had enough energy to write the first draft of this blog post – something very unusual for me.
Breaking the unbearable habit is going to take ongoing practice, but by practicing bold breaking it in a very public environment is something I know gave me a strong head-start.
What’d you think? Are there any habits you’re breaking? Do you have any creative solutions? I’d love to know.