“Chris, if you cut me off again I’m going to punch you in the face”

One of the key things we need to do as we attempt to build truly collaborative teams, whether it be internally or with partner organizations, is to actually listen to what is being said. Respect needs to be shown for those around the table or on the phone. We need to understand that although we may not agree, we do have to listen. If you’re unable to listen and understand your teammates, you will never truly develop the trust needed to gain a shared consciousness, which in turn prevents you from most effectively attacking the complex environment in which we live utilizing your team’s greatest potential.

This is a topic that I know much about, as I am naturally a horrible listener. This was a flaw that was pointed out to me throughout my career in the Army, but never as directly as when I was the Deputy Plans Officer for 1BCT, 82nd Airborne Division. My boss and mentor, sat me down for a counseling session to help me prepare to grow as an officer, leader, and future commander. As soon as my mentor mentioned something I needed to improve on, my brain kicked into overdrive and I cut him off, telling him how I was already working on that…

I can remember his reaction, as this was not the first time I had done something like this. He said, “Chris, if you cut me off again I’m going to punch you in the face!” To set the stage, we were in a very rudimentary old Soviet-made building in the south of Afghanistan, where our brigade was engaged in a pretty tough fight against the Taliban. But back to listening… I remember at that moment thinking, why am I cutting off someone who is genuinely trying to make me better? Why can’t I listen? How do I fix this huge flaw?

This same mentor always carried three or four different colored pens, and always the same kind: Pilot G-2s. He would write using different colors all of the time. What did each color mean? Why was he using red now? Everyone on our staff tried to figure it out. We all made assumptions. After several years working with him, I don’t think he ever really told me what each color stood for, only that changing the colors, helped make certain things stand out to him.

I of course, wanting to be just like him, started using the same pens and developing my own code for each color. While I was in command, blue meant my own thoughts, green meant tasks for my team, red meant tasks for myself. This way, I always knew simply by looking at the different colors, who had to do what and how I felt or what I thought. I continued this practice after I left the Army and still always have my three Pilot G-2s with me, though today they serve a different purpose…

Today I use these pens in two separate ways. When I am writing in my journal reflecting on my day or week I use blue as my default color, but I use red and green to highlight big thoughts and ideas, so that they jump off the page. This is an internal process I use simply for me. At work I have a code like I did when I was in the Army, however, I now use these pens as a way to help remind me to listen…

Blue still equals my own thoughts and notes. This is probably because blue is my favorite color and I naturally pick it up if given a choice. Red remains the color of tasks, though now it is tasks for both me and my team. Green, however, has taken a whole new meaning. Today, when I am in a meeting with our team, our partners, or a client I use my green pen to takes notes based on what others are saying. By holding my green pen, I make it a point to myself to remember I am in listening mode. I need to listen and hear what the folks I am meeting with are saying, so that I can understand their point of view and show them the respect that true teams are built upon.

If what is being said makes me think of something, I transition to my blue pen to ensure that I capture the thought as mine. After a meeting, I can then go back and try to understand what our client or teammate was talking about, take some notes based on what it meant to me, and then gain a better understanding of the entire subject. To me, this leads to developing the shared consciousness we need today.

My purpose for writing this piece is not to try to get everyone to use different color pens. I tell this story to show that each one of us needs to figure out what our own “green pen” is going to be, so that we truly listen to those we are working with. The complex environment that we all operate in today is too difficult for us to think we can do everything ourselves. The only way to attack this environment and achieve our true potential is to work together in a truly collaborative way. When we do this, we achieve better internal results and we bring more value to our clients.



By Chris Duprey, MS 
Director of Operations &
Business Development

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