I have been obsessed with the simple act of listening for a long time. Not because I’m good at it (I’m not) or because it’s an essential part of my craft (it is). I’ve always known that my preoccupation has to do with the fact that like many of you, I’ve recognized that the times I’ve felt listened to are rare.
Yet I know what those times mean for me. As one of five children in a family that dealt with alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, mental illness and prison, there wasn’t the capacity for any of us to listen to each other as we simply did our best to stay out of harm’s way.
Yet there was someone who listened to me through all of this. My grandmother was force of stability when there wasn’t any at home, and I spent a fair amount of time staying with her. She wasn’t perfect, but she was a role model for listening.
I felt valued around her, and for whatever reason, she thought I had potential to rise beyond the circumstances of my family situation. As a teenager – in the most vulnerable time of my life, her presence was immeasurable.
She asked me questions that helped me to think and she listened to my answers without judgment.
Her simple act of listening was an act of love that changed my life. It led me to find a college that nurtured me in a way my family couldn’t and to discover meaning in a major that wouldn’t just pay the bills . She led me to finding my current life passion, even as she’s been absent from my life for decades. Through the work I do, I learned from her that I can make a difference by listening to others.
I developed a belief that our world – and our organizations – could be so much more than they are, if only we all listened better.
What does this mean for you?
The simplest thing – listening – can make a huge difference in your ability to make a difference in the lives of the people you lead. It can keep you out of harm’s way while helping you to develop into the highest version of yourself. It can also help the people you lead to think more deeply about what matters to them and how that connects with the work they do.
Listening is a reflective process. When combined with non-judgmental, open-ended questions, everyone wins. You learn, they learn, and everyone becomes a better person.
It’s simple, but it’s also difficult. It takes courage. We’re all capable of it, and it will make a big difference in your work and the people you lead. You’ll be a model for better listening, and others will learn by your example to listen better to you too. Isn’t that what you want?