I grew up in Ferguson, Missouri.
Although Barry-Wehmiller is now a global company, one of its early headquarters was in the City of St. Louis on North Florissant, close to Ferguson. Our corporate office is now located in Clayton, MO, blocks away from the St. Louis County courthouse and police department. If you’ve been paying attention to the nonstop media coverage of what has been happening in the St. Louis area over the last couple of days, these locations will sound very familiar to you. It’s difficult not to be deeply troubled by what is happening in the community which has played an important role in my life.
While the issues at hand run deep and obviously cannot be solved though a blog post, I wonder if we might move the needle a little through something I talk a great deal about in this blog and a practice we embrace daily throughout Barry-Wehmiller: the importance of listening.
I have often said that listening is the most important thing a leader can do. But I believe it transcends leadership. Listening is the most important thing we, as humans, can do for one another. It shows empathy, it shows you care, and most importantly, it shows the person you are listening to that they matter. When done with the intent to not merely get the information you need but rather to meet the needs of the other person and hear how he or she is feeling, listening allows us to connect and better understand each other.
According to William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation and one of the world’s leading experts on negotiation and mediation, “When you listen to someone, it’s the most profound act of human respect.”
In 2008, we began teaching our team members how to improve their listening skills through a Barry-Wehmiller University course on communication. What we didn’t anticipate was the profound difference that improved listening made not just at work, but in their lives as a whole.
As our professors teach in the class:
“One of the most powerful dynamics of human interaction is when people feel as though they have been heard. Really heard. Hearing someone does not mean we necessarily have to agree with what has been said. Rather, it is working to understand where people are coming from and then going to a new place together.”
Bill Ury also says that we are given two ears and one mouth for a reason: to listen twice as much as we talk. How can we build trust and show respect and understand one another unless we know what the other person is thinking and feeling? The way we actualize caring is through empathetic listening. I wonder how our dialogue with one another could be improved, not only in St. Louis or Ferguson but throughout the globe, if we were to approach every conversation in this way.