The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Screening: The Art of Listening

I had a wonderful 30-minute morning bus ride and conversation around mid-January 2006 that started in a part of the city that is now considered a ghetto.

The rapid bus pulled in front of me and a man who looked like he's several years older than me tried to board first. Women's rights enthusiast that I am, I asserted myself to boarding first as he complained about not being able to drive his Bentley due to his poor vision. "Then that means you need to have someone driving you wherever you need to go in that Bentley," was the reply over my shoulder. His ears perked up.

He made some comment about no longer suffering from the weaknesses of lust. I responded with a quote from Socrates that echoed the sentiment. He sat up straighter and asked which university I attended. The conversation, emanating from the Socratic quote, took off.

He said he was the first black player on the Pittsburgh Steelers (1957). He spoke of his birthplace outside of the United States, as was all of his siblings (and where they now live). He spoke of his fabulous homes. He first said he has four children.

He spoke of something that was dear to my heart, quality of education, what it takes to imbue our youth with the right motivation to succeed, and where the responsibility for all of this lies. He bragged about the success that all four of his children have attained. As the conversation continued, he suddenly had six.

He spoke of being a Korean War veteran and suffering from post war trauma. I painfully remembered my ex-husband's tales of Viet Nam and asked for a time out. He continued by explaining that due to those flashbacks, he's now being treated at the VA for psychological disorders. He acknowledged that the Manchurians pulled him out of his plane wreckage and sewed up his massive wounds without question. He attributed this to the color of his skin. I attributed it to the fact that he was an American fighting, in part, for their rights and freedom.

He spoke of being a Big Ten golfer who relinquished his position to someone else so that person may succeed. He spoke of the several foundations he founded.

The conversation was wonderful. But I kept wondering why, if he had that much money and success, he was starting that day's journey from a low-income neighborhood. He was well groomed. His clothing was of good and not flashy quality. He was well spoken. He admitted to being 80 years old. That one glitch in the image kept nagging at me but I decided to enjoy the information and conversation.

We parted company. He said his name during part of the conversation and I tried to hear it correctly but did not. I asked whether I could stay in touch because he had touched on several issues that were worth further development, especially for my readers. He refused. Later, I asked again, explaining that I write on career development and recruiting issues and his words and viewpoints would be of value to my readers. He again refused to provide his contact information. He protested that he's on the move a lot and only in town for a short time. I repeated the name I thought I heard and he finally told me his first and last name, and spelled the last for me.

The bus driver protested as he rose to leave. The driver wanted to hear more of the conversation. But it was time for it to end.

When I finally reached a computer, my first activity was to do a search on the Steelers site and look up the rosters for the years 1956, 1957, and 1958. There was no member of the team with the name I was given by the gentleman and no one from a university that he may have attended. By the time I began my research, I thought I remembered that it was a non-U.S. university. As I write these words, I now recall which one it was -- it was U.S.

Perhaps it was a false name he gave. Perhaps the whole conversation and all of the stories were manufactured. The inconsistencies indicated that was the case. Had I been interviewing and screening a candidate, those two red flags should have been reason for me to press the conversation a little further on those two issues. Indeed, I wanted to ask him why he was starting his journey in that neighborhood but didn't have a proper opening to do so. Maybe his puffery was merely his way of impressing me.

Had this been an interview of a candidate, the gentleman would have screened himself out of the running. He had no rational explanations for the inconsistencies in his information.

The important issues, however, are that:
  1. I listened very carefully.
  2. I used my critical thinking skills.
  3. I paid attention to those two or three flags.
  4. Most importantly, I enjoyed the experience and
  5. It was a conversation, not an interrogation.

Remember that it's a conversation and just enjoy the experience as you make your screening decisions.