The Magic of Your Silence

November 06, 2013
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller
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As leaders in business, we have the opportunity to positively affect lives both inside our organizations and our communities.

When we launched Communication Skills Training (now Listen Like a Leader) through Barry-Wehmiller University and saw the profound impact it was having on our team members, we felt compelled to share it outside our walls.

Today, Barry-Wehmiller’s nonprofit Our Community LISTENS is bringing its simple yet profound learnings about listening to a growing number of communities.

I am often asked how we can justify our significant investment in people-development. My response is always the same – how can we justify not doing it?

I invite you to read this personal story of a recent graduate, written by Sara Hannah of Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute. It’s all the justification we need.

Three weeks ago, a police detective in a quiet Colorado mountain community was called to handle a dispute involving a mother and her 20-something son. “I anticipated a relatively routine case,” the police officer explained.  “I expected to arrive to the house, hear both sides, and quickly mediate the situation.”
The son claimed that his mother, with whom he lived, had stolen his car. She admitted taking the car “to teach him a lesson.” She was agitated and angry. When she returned with his car, she began yelling at her son. He screamed back at her. Then the mom started yelling at the detective. At that point the son hopped in his car and sped away.
In the past, the police officer would have left quickly since the “stolen” car was now returned.  Or, if he had stayed, he would have offered advice.
But the detective had changed. The previous week, he joined this group of Communication Skills Training graduates.
Now, for the first time in his 15 years on the force, he understood how to reflectively listen with empathy. He decided to test his new skills on this case. The results, he said, “were amazing. Like magic!”
As it turns out, the woman was frustrated by her son’s marijuana use. It was making him lazy, she said. She suspected he was using it because he missed his father (her husband) who had died recently. She was terrified her son would become an addict and struggle through life without his father.
While the detective remained quiet, the woman opened up about her family’s struggles. She began crying, sharing how much she missed him. For two hours, she talked nonstop about their life together and the problems she faced without him.
The detective continued listening, asking occasional questions to lead her down a path to discovery. “A couple of times I was tempted to give advice, mine for data, and offer reassuring suggestions,” he said. “But I would refrain, reminding myself to simply listen to allow her to find her own answers.”
By the end, the mother had a plan for how she would deal with her son as well as her own grief. “You could see the relief on her face,” the detective said. “She thanked me many times over for listening. She was a changed person by the end of our conversation.”
The policeman said the experience changed him as well. “As cops, we are trained to quickly solve people’s problems. This incident changed my way of thinking about how to truly help someone.
“I am a lot more empathetic now,” he continued. “And I am humbled by the realization that people have a strong need to communicate yet many of them have never been truly heard.”


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