Raise your hand if you think the last couple weeks have been difficult. I have a sneaky suspicion that we agree on the fact that between the Covid-19 Pandemic and the Protests and riots, this has been an emotional couple of months.
Being an observer, I have been searching through all the noise on social media and monitoring human reactions. I can tell you that people are angry, frustrated, and in many cases, acting out. They are no longer holding back on how they feel about the pandemic or the recent protests and riots. And in the process, a number of people are proving to me how they sorely lack skills in the listening department.
By the way, this last sentence concerning listening is an understatement.
At the age of 13, my son had a friend over the house to hang-out. Although it was summer, I was still working from home and taking care of a number of different responsibilities. The boys were busy for a couple hours when they suddenly got the brilliant idea to go to the mall. My son presented himself in the kitchen and announced that I needed to take him and his friend to the mall-as soon as possible. I looked up from my work and said, “you know, this might surprise you, but I don’t exist just to serve all your needs. I have my own life, and things that I need to get done around here”.
My son looked at me strangely, in a way that I had never experienced. I actually could see the light bulb going off above his head. It’s almost like I could see his perspective shifting in front of me. He was no longer focused on himself but could see and hear what I was trying to tell him. He responded in a way of understanding, not motivated by his own needs, but in a way that reflected what he had just heard.
It was the first day that my son saw me not just as his mom, but as an individual that had my own needs. I felt heard and respected.
The moment is seared in my memory because it represents active listening. I was so impressed that he didn’t try to have his usual discussion, convince me of his views or break me down until I finally gave in. He didn’t give me the well-known “yes, but it’s just” and tell me why my thinking is wrong. He just said that he understood, and they would find something else to do.
As a leader, you have a responsibility to be an exceptional listener. I doubt many of you are able to accomplish this feat on a consistent basis. Want to be a better listener? Then focus your whole being on hearing the message. Stop concentrating on your great rebuttal that will bring them over to your own side, or what you want for lunch in two hours. Just focus, without judgement and hear the real message coming through. And remember, being an exceptional listener takes time and practice.
It’s past time to start practicing.