It goes without saying that 2020 has been quite a year.
We find ourselves in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, civil unrest and, in the US, election year politics that have erupted into some of the most volatile discourse we’ve ever heard.
Today is Election Day, when many of the tensions and anxieties we have been experiencing may come to a head. If I were to offer advice to anyone during this time, it would be something that I speak of often, and is simultaneously the easiest answer yet the hardest thing to do.
Simple, right? But if it’s so simple – across the board in our country and in our world – why aren’t we able to do a better job? And it’s not about listening to be able to respond. It’s real, true, empathetic listening.
My friend, Bill Ury, 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 our workplaces or our homes, but with everyone we encounter, if we were to approach every conversation in this way.
As a leader, listening is the most important thing you can do. But I believe it transcends leadership. Listening is the most important thing we, as humans, can do for one another. It shows the person you are listening to that they matter. It honors their dignity. 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.
As I recently said to a writer for Forbes, true empathetic listening, where one actually hears the other person’s words and feelings, is the kind of listening that builds empathy as it allows us to see things from others' perspectives. It’s the key to all meaningful relationships as it shows that you respect and care for the person you’re hearing.
In addition to the tension and anxiety around Election Day, the next few months may be quite a struggle in other ways. As the holidays approach, families will have many decisions to make. Thanksgiving and Christmas may not look like they used to. Many loved ones have been lost this year. An empathetic ear may be the most important gift we can give our friends and family this year.
And if you are still working virtually, maybe it would be a good time to reach out to teammates you haven’t seen in awhile. The bonds of that second family are so much a part of us, we need that extra support. They certainly deserve an empathetic ear as well.
Learning to listen to each other has been fundamental to the success of our journey at Barry-Wehmiller. People are capable of doing amazing things when we foster an environment in which they have a voice, are granted respect and dignity, and are allowed to discover, develop, share, and be appreciated for their gifts in pursuit of the organization’s shared purpose.
If our educational institutions and business organizations taught the skills of empathetic listening, if our business leaders recognized that the people within their span of care are more than functions on a spreadsheet, if we embraced the awesome responsibility of leading those in our spans of care, we could see beyond this world of anxiety and tension to the better world we imagine!
This year, we should all elect to be better listeners. It is fundamental to bringing about positive change in our broken world.