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Name That Tune

Highly effective leaders welcome feedback from their employees in the form of new ideas or warnings about overlooked problems. But when employees struggle to sell their ideas, unexpected resistance can lead to frustration. Because their theories are incredibly obvious to them, they believe anyone who resists is either foolish or deliberately standing in their way. In fact, an employee's inability to articulate a suggestion is often what really gets in the way of its acceptance. So the employee grows frustrated (it's so obvious), becomes more vocal, and eventually earns the disrespectful employee label.

A 1990 study conducted by psychologist Elizabeth Newton illustrates how people assume that what's obvious to them is equally apparent to others. Newton asked her subjects to tap out the rhythm of a familiar tune for another person, and to assess the probability that the listener would identify the song correctly. Those tapping predicted that their listeners would be able to recognize the songs 50 percent of the time. However, listeners were lucky if they could identify the tunes 3 percent of the time. The difference, of course, is that the tappers could hear the music in their heads as they tapped, whereas listeners heard only a series of intermittent taps. Newton proved that when people measure their expectations for others, they use themselves as the yardstick.

It is often difficult to distinguish the frustrated malcontents--those who simply grapple for the right words--from the everyday chronic complainers. As a result, the tendency is to dismiss the ideas and concerns of ineloquent employees. So when you don't recognize the music, remember that even some of your most creative thinkers might require help their unconventional ideas.
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