I walked into the huge, fancy ballroom in Las Vegas in the afternoon to set up for my evening presentation. The sound technician met me at the door. Most of the time I hear, “We have a number of microphone options; if you tell me your preference we can get you set up right away. At this hotel, I was met with, “You gonna need a handheld, a lavalier, or what?” I relied, “I like a handheld, they sound better.” Without acknowledging that words actually came out of my mouth, he walked away. He returned a minute later and handed me a microphone. “Mind if I give it a quick sound check?” I asked. He said, “I already did a sound check, it works.” With that, he flipped the switch on, jammed the microphone up to his mouth and said, “Check, check, check. See?”
I continued, “No offense to Eminem, but I hold my mic a little lower in front of my chest so I don’t look like a rapper. Can we turn up the volume a bit so I can back off the mic?” He replied with a twinge of sarcasm, “Oh. You mean you don’t want to hold it the same way that Obama, Bill Gates, and Colin Powell when they were here?” I tried to imagine Bill Gates holding a microphone half an inch from his face and singing, “Yo, yo, yo, wha’s up Vegas?” I said, “As much as I admire our former Secretary of State, I would like it a little lower. “This is a tough room for sound,” he said. “You’re gonna get feedback.” (The loud squeal you hear when a microphone is moved in front of a speaker) I looked around. Other than the decorations, it was set up pretty much like every other hotel ballroom. I said, “I think we’ll be okay. Please set it louder for me.”
The evening presentation went off without a hitch. The next morning I had a break-out in a smaller room in the hotel and met another sound technician from the hotel. Thinking the previous night’s conversation was just the outcome of a tired, grumpy employee, I asked for the volume to be turned up a bit so I didn’t have to place the microphone half and inch from my face. “If you knew anything about this type of microphone,” he said, “you would know that it sounds best that way. And if I turn it up, you’re gonna get feedback.” I said, “I’ll be careful. Please turn it up.” The break-out went fine; no loud squealing sounds.
I decided not to tell either of these guys that I was a sound technician for a number of years in my youth and I could not only quote them the mathematical formula used to determine feedback levels, but I own the very microphone they used at the hotel. I didn’t mention it because the point is not who knows more about a subject, the point is whether the customer wants to come back to your business the next time they need a service. We all need to have pride in our work, and being an expert in a particular field feels good. It should, it takes years to gain expertise and we should take pride in our accomplishments. However, taking pride and ownership should never cross over into shutting out input.
If you have ever used the phrase, “I’ve been doing this for X years, I know what I’m doing!” you might need to examine how that affects your ability to listen and accommodate others. Throughout history, some of the best ideas have been prefaced with, “Well I’m no expert, but have you thought of trying it this way?” Sure, we must use our expertise to make sure a customer doesn’t ask for something that will ultimately fail, but too often we use that excuse just because we don’t want to do something a different way than we are accustomed. Instead of using expertise to justify laziness, a good professional uses every opportunity to allow input from others to refresh old methods and shake up routine. That way, you can say, “I’ve been doing this for X years, and I’m still learning.”
Stevie Ray is a nationally recognized corporate speaker and trainer, helping companies improve communication skills, customer service, leadership, and team management. He can be reached at www.stevierays.org or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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