Learning from all sides

Learn to speak to people who won’t just tell you what you want to hear but what you need to know

I have a lot of books. One of my many favorites is James W. Graham’s “Victura: The Kennedys, a Sailboat, and the Sea.” Published in 2014, I’ve read it three times since.

This year, I’ve elected not to put my own sailboat in the water because of Covid-19 restrictions. I can only have people aboard who live with me, and I live alone. It takes three people just to step the mast.

Although I could get by that, I’d feel guilty sailing alone on a beautiful day, when so many people would want to join me. I’ve done a lot of single-handed sailing, especially racing, but I enjoy taking friends and family out to share the wonder and beauty of it all.

Not spending time on the water, I’m rereading sailing books and magazines to ease the pain. The imagination is a powerful thing, and I can feel the breeze and the boat healing while sitting on a couch.

According to Graham’s book, old man Kennedy, the ambassador, wanted his children to learn how to sail to teach them self-reliance.

My maternal grandfather always said there’s good and bad in everybody, and he was so right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gained valuable insight from someone with whom I disagree. As a consultant and engineer, I’ve done a lot of troubleshooting. Clients don’t want to pay me to learn their processes and businesses. I have to depend on their local knowledge. I draw upon that knowledge and organize it to render a solution that works.

There’s an old saying that consultants borrow your watch to tell you the time, and there’s some truth to that. Sometimes the information I need to develop a solution comes from someone I’d least like to speak with, a least likely source. He or she is also the person management would least like to speak with. They’re disgruntled employees, troublemakers and the like. What I’ve found is they’re disgruntled because they have valuable information to contribute, and they can’t get anyone to listen.

Although I disagree with the Kennedys on many issues, I’ve learned a lot from them. They’ve helped me deepen my own appreciation of sailing, of life, and yes, of business as well. Their money didn’t come from making stupid decisions. Admittedly, the means with which old Joe acquired it are certainly controversial, and I would never do what he did. I can still learn something from what he did without agreeing with it.

What distresses me immeasurably is what’s going on today. For instance, on college campuses, people with whom the students and faculty disagree are banned from speaking. Education is supposed to broaden one’s mind, not close it. How can you make an intelligent choice without considering both sides? How can you even consider making an intelligent choice when you don’t even understand the other side?

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to politics. It especially applies to business. How can you possibly run a profitable business without considering all the alternatives of whatever you’re offering?

Unfortunately, what’s destroying our country is also destroying our businesses. We’ve lost sight of the greater good. As President Kennedy, a great sailor, was fond of saying, “a rising tide raises all boats.”

The divisions in our country exist in our companies. Unless we can rise to the greater good, we look forward to a falling tide. One of the Kennedys’ favorite poems was used in many of their speeches. It’s from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses”:
“We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
If you’re struggling with a problem, don’t give up. Speak not to people who will tell you what you want to hear but to those who will tell you what you need to know.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Salem, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or RonBourque3@gmail.com.

Categories: Business Advice