Re-Learning My ABC’s

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If you’ve read Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em (LELE), you’re familiar with the alphabetized list of employee retention strategies Sharon and I offered to managers back in 1999. While the alphabet hasn’t changed in the intervening years, a lot of other things have in addition to writing a 6th edition 20 years later.

As I was putting the finishing touches on the 6th edition, a friend asked, “Bev, what have you learned from the LELE ABCs?” But I decided to try answering her question -- and it turned out to be the best therapy session ever. Some of you may think this suggests admirable introspection on my part and I’m grateful for that interpretation. But – full disclosure – I was motivated as much by curiosity as by self-improvement. So, having made that admission – and at the risk of sounding like a Sesame Street puppet – I’m going to talk about the letter “A”.


A is for ASK

In the LELE alphabet, A is for ASK. Sounds simple, right? Three letters. One syllable. Straightforward. Unambiguous. Not necessarily. I’ve come to believe that asking is far more complicated than it appears. For example, while asking questions is important, I’m convinced that questioning answers is even more so. Let me explain.

Yesterday my husband Barry asked, “How did your podcast go?” and I answered, “95% great.” But, when he responded, “Wonderful,” I was a little disappointed.  Why? Because I think I really wanted him to ask, “What about the other 5%?” Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the word “Wonderful” – or with Barry.  It showed that he heard the “great” part of my answer and was happy for me. But he didn’t notice my blinking words – “95%” – the words that were my way of saying, “It wasn’t all great.”

Blinking words are those that stand out and provide an opportunity for the “asker” to really demonstrate an interest in the answer. They can be obvious words like “awful,” which begs for a follow-on response like, “Awful? Really? In what way? Tell me more.” But they can also be less conspicuous words, like “OK,” “Not bad,” and “Fine.” For example, if I ask an employee, “How was your day?” and she says, “Fine, thanks,” I’m frankly tempted to accept her answer with relief and move on to more weighty topics. But if I instead ask, “Just fine? Why just fine?” she knows I’m paying attention and might actually be curious about her day. She can feel comfortable telling me something that might increase my understanding of her, her motivation, and her engagement. So, we both benefits.

Having arrived at this priceless insight, I took time to consider what happens when I do the asking. I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t always ask in a straightforward or unambiguous way. Sometimes I ask so subtly that the person (in many cases, my husband Barry) doesn’t recognize it as an “ask.” For example, “Do you ever wish we had a little genie who would have our coffee ready for us when we wake up?” Other times I ask so automatically that even I don’t expect an answer -- “How are you?” If I really wanted to hear the answer, I might ask, “How are you today, Megan?” Other times, I ask in a more intentional but veiled way that masks the fact that I actually require help – “How will I ever get this done by the end of the day?” And too often, I ask in a way that puts the burden on the person I’m asking -- “Let me know if I can help, OK?” instead of, “Will it help if I clean this doggy doo off your carpet?”

LELE offers 26 opportunities for me to re-learn my ABCs, and “Ask” is only the first. Will you please visit my website, order your copy of Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em” and return to this blog weekly for my take on the other 25?  Just asking.

Thank you.  Truly!