[Viewpoint]Listening lesson

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[Viewpoint]Listening lesson

It happened many years ago. At an after-work meal, a senior colleague who was sitting at another table moved to a seat next to mine. He seemed determined to talk.

“You are many years my junior at work, but you are not easy to deal with,” he said.

I have to admit that I might not be easy to deal with. I have gotten the same comment since I was very young. It was not so bad being difficult because throughout my career, people treated me seriously. More often than not, you have to struggle to take the initiative at work, and if you seem easy to deal with, other people will be all over you and tell you how to do your job.

Being the difficult junior associate, I was able to pursue my ideas relatively free from interference, and when I was young, my coworkers even envied my stubbornness. Moreover, I enjoyed being difficult.

However, now that I am experienced and have juniors under me, I am faced with people who are as difficult to deal with, if not more so, than I was. And I have come to realize that it is not always easy to be on the other side of the coin.

Quite a while ago, I was simultaneously working on two different projects with two junior colleagues. One of them did not have the best reputation or performance record, and his project was influenced by a lot of different people. He did not have a solid core idea and was swayed by others, much to his agony.

In contrast, the other one did his job all by himself without anyone getting in his way. I did have some thoughts about his project at the preliminary stage, but for some reason, he projected an aura that prevented me from voicing my opinions. Other coworkers also refrained from giving him advice, and he made his way through the project without any obstacles.

But the two juniors got completely opposite results. The former, who went through some turbulence and had to listen to the concerns of coworkers throughout the project, produced far better result. He might not have enjoyed himself for he failed to take the initiative and had to constantly reflect the opinions of others. But his initial idea was greatly improved after it was mixed with the thoughts of others, and the results reflected this.

In contrast, the latter junior, who did the project by himself, did not have such a good result. He didn’t hear different ideas and opinions from other people, and later, I found out that his colleagues were overwhelmed by his dominance and refrained from sharing their thoughts.

In what seems like no time, I have 25 years of experience in advertising. Most of the time, I am the senior wherever I go, and most of the partners I work with are my juniors. Among them, some are promoted to new positions and given new responsibilities. In other words, they are novice managers.

When you are a beginner, it is only natural that there are things you might not know and you will make mistakes. The seniors have gone through the same experience. There are so many instructive tales the seniors want to tell juniors. However, when I open my mouth to start, I feel that my words are bouncing back to me. This is understandable. When you are given some power and can work with authority for the first time, why would you want to listen to other people?

A beginner usually does not ask for help and builds a wall around himself. When a difficult person works on his own, there is no choice but to leave him alone. However, when lessons that could have been easily learned by keeping an open mind and listening to a little advice have to be taught through trial and error, it is a great loss for not only the individual but also the company.

As I look at my juniors, I naturally think about my younger days. And I am lost in reflective thought. If I were a person easy to deal with and let others give me advice, I might have been able to save myself from many of my mistakes and failures. And I would be far wiser than I am today. It is a shame that I learned this important lesson only when it is too late. Listening is not a matter of attitude but ability, and sometimes, your performance depends on how well you pay attention to other people’s opinions.


The writer is the senior vice president of the Creative Division at Cheil Worldwide. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Choi In-a

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