Coughing is heckling
The other night I heard Keith Jarrett stop a concert mid-note. While the hall had been surprisingly silent during the performance, the song he was playing was quiet and downbeat and we (and especially he) could hear an increasing chorus of coughs.
"Coughs?," you might wonder... "No one coughs on purpose. Anyway, there are thousands of people in the hall, of course there are going to be coughs."
But how come no one was coughing during the introductions or the upbeat songs or during the awkward moments when Keith stopped playing?
No, a cough is not as overt or aggressive as shouting down the performer. Nevertheless, it's heckling.
Just like it's heckling when someone is tweeting during a meeting you're running, or refusing to make eye contact during a sales call. Your work is an act of co-creation, and if the other party isn't egging you on, engaging wth you and doing their part, then it's as if they're actively tearing you down.
Yes, you're a professional. So is Jarrett. A professional at Carnegie Hall has no business stopping a concert over some coughing. But in many ways, I'm glad he did. He made it clear that for him, it's personal. It's a useful message for all of us, a message about understanding that our responsibility goes beyond buying a ticket for the concert or warming a chair in the meeting. If we're going to demand that our partners push to new levels, we have to go for the ride, all the way, or not at all.