Tom Kincaid taught me one of the greatest lessons I ever learnt in understanding Stephen Covey’s statement “Seek First to Understand before Being Understood” which comes from his from his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”
I first met Tom when we I was a manager at British Gas and was given a team which Tom was part of. It was no secret that Tom was perceived as “a bit of a challenge”. Opinionated, bad attitude, stubborn in general, difficult to manage and that is exactly how he seemed to come across. He was however, excellent at his job, brilliant with customers on the phone and really prided himself on the level of customer service he gave to his customers.
To say we clashed on quite a few occassions would be an understatement! I would end up frustrated and angry that he would not do what I wanted him to and that he challenged a lot of what I said and did and just would not conform! He was, in my opinion, the most difficult member of staff I had ever had to deal with!
This all changed one day after a workshop I attended with Graham Bird, the man who inspired me to become a coach.
He spoke about reframing events and situations to take the positive rather than the negative and it was then I had a lightbulb moment.
I realised that as far as Tom was concerned, I was perceiving him in a negative frame. I had been influenced by the opinion of others and their experience, but it was their interpretation, their perception and I had bought into it!
So, I began to “Seek First to Understand before being Understood” and started to reframe the whole situation. Instead of thinking about it “Like This” I thought about it “Like That.”
What I then understood above all else, was that Tom was passionate, he was opinionated because he cared! He wasn’t just there to do his job and go home. He was there to question and to challenge, because he believed in doing things right! He was stubborn because he stuck by what he believed in and would not compromise! He was a union rep because he believed in looking after customers, in this case, his customers were the other staff members.
When reframed in this way, it became apparent that Tom was an absolute asset to the company! That passion could be used in a real positive way and my relationship with Tom changed from that day, because I understood him! I understood that he cared and wanted to make a difference! It was a wonderful and powerful lesson and I am so grateful to Tom for helping me learn that! We are now great friends, with a huge mutual respect and affection for each other.
Tom is still at British Gas and over the years has made a huge contribution the company, geared around doing the best for customers and staff. Recently, those excellent qualities of his were severely put to the test!
For many years Tom has suffered from diabetes. In his usual way, he has got on with it, never using it as an excuse.
His condition worsened a couple of months ago however and he was advised that he would have to have his leg amputated below the knee, otherwise he may die. Faced with this, Tom made the only choice he could and it was very distressing for him in the days leading up to the operation, wondering how he would cope and realising his life would never be the same again.
After the operation, something extraordinary happened. Tom told me ” Once it was done, in my mind it was Right! That’s it! Let’s get on with it! And I felt better than I had for years!” In fact, Tom was actually back at work within ten days!! An extraordinary achievement! That same stubborness, doggedness, not conforming, challenging everything, all once perceived as negative, were instrumental in Tom’s determination to “Get on with it!”
His sense of humour also plays a huge part. Some people are not quite sure what to say to him and how to approach him. Using his wicked sense of humour, (for instance how he is always “legless”) He puts them at their ease and helps them understand that it is ok to talk and joke about it!
When I met with him a couple of days ago, I was delighted to see how well he looked and he was excited at the prospect of becoming a full time union rep and the opportunities that will bring. He has also been overwhelmed and humbled by the amount of support he has had from British Gas, who he says have been brilliant as a company, and the people. It is only what he deserves!
So thank you Tom! I am honoured to call you my friend and continue to live your passion!
By the way, if you ever have the good fortune to meet Tom, ask him to tell you his “Snake Story”! It is absolutely brilliant!! And another great lesson!!!