A Week on Silence / by AB Mann

A Week in Silence. More on my blag shortly. #aominaction

I am a quiet person. Solitude in a well-controlled environment is important to me; but I have never attempted to use silence in a beneficial way. This week was really the first time and it was harder than I thought.

I manage a dozen people at work which requires meeting with each of them individually every week to assess priorities, projects, and gather or give feedback. Managing people means working with disparate personalities and varying levels of talkativeness in those meetings. I’ve found that, with a few of my team members, I have a habit of filling the silent time myself. Which means I tend to talk the majority of our meeting time.

This is bad management. Silence in a 1:1 meeting is a tool to understand what is on your team member’s mind. A successful 1:1 is me spending as little time talking as possible while still being informed of all the things that have happened or may happen in the coming week. This summary from Rands in Repose(1) is elegant:

A 1:1 is a place to listen for what they aren’t saying.

The sound that surrounds successful regimen of 1:1s is silence. All of the listening, questioning, and discussion that happens during a 1:1 is managerial preventative maintenance. You’ll see when interest in a project begins to wane and take action before it becomes job dissatisfaction.

  • The Update, The Vent, and the Disaster

When I’m talking, I’m not listening.

This was the primary practical application of Franklin’s Silence virtue. I spend the whole first half of Tuesday in Wednesday in work plans. I felt the silence in a few situations where my team members grew uncomfortable.

Some of my team members do not treat our weeklies as a conversation, that it is to be as short a “here’s what’s on my plate” as possible. They are the ones uncomfortable in silence when I ask brief, open questions to allow them to fill the pauses between.

Had you asked me last week which I thought would go poorly, I would have guessed the newer team members with whom I had not built a relationship. The golden thread linking the worst of my weeklies was engagement and overall performance.

It seems obvious now that people interested in their jobs and projects can keep a conversation going as they are more likely to detail the tapestry they’re weaving in their work. Open questions to engaged team members creates rich responses.

I think I’ll keep this specific implementation going.

Indiscretions

Otherwise, I feel like I need better ideas of what the other virtues mean. I don’t think I’m applying them consistently and may be too generous in my marking.

For temperance, how do I handle when I’m out and get 1 drink but the bartender is generous (2)? By volume, it;s probably two drinks? Potentially more. I drank it over about three hours while writing. So… was that intemperance or dealing with the potential for intemperance in an appropriate manner?

I did, at least, call that a mark against frugality. Though working away from home can make certain things flow better, the money is spent is ultimately unnecessary. You can argue that for sure.

And though I had more marks against humility, I likely was just missing them before. I believe it useful that I’m catching them now as I’m becoming more aware of of boasting (sarcasm too regarding the Sincerity virtue) but I’m not yet catching myself before I break the virtue.

Others - justice, moderation, and cleanliness - I think I need to consider definitions better but that will come later.

This is a learning process.

We stand at the crossroads, each minute, each hour, each day, making choices. We choose the thoughts we allow ourselves to think, the passions we allow ourselves to feel, and the actions we allow ourselves to perform.

  • Benjamin Franklin, The Art of Virtue

1. If you’re in tech and are a manager, you should read Rands in Repose. It is always as relevant as it is well-written.

2. That’s a glass of Ardbeg and the fireplace at a coffee shop in town. I am lucky that local coffee shops serve alcohol let along good whisky poured generously.