The organization’s management team and I had just received the results of our culture survey from our associates. As one might expect, there were areas of strength and areas that needed work. One area needing improvement was communication. We fell short of our expectations and immediately started to brainstorm solutions. The solutions we initially discussed focused on doing and saying. Later that night it struck me: maybe the key to bridging the communication gap is not in saying more, but in listening more.
Pondering the ability to listen made me think of my Aunt Mary. She was an enormous force of love, zest, and determination. I remember sitting with her in her room near the tail end of her life. She had lost the physical ability to engage in a hobby she was passionate about – sewing – due to the loss of eyesight.
Mary leaned towards me and said, “I may not be able to do many of the things I used to, but there is one thing that works great for me: my hearing. I am becoming a much better listener. People come to visit because I have learned to listen.” Listening matters. We perceive someone who is a great listener as an individual who can communicate well because we feel our voice is acknowledged and heard by that person.
Unlike Aunt Mary, who became a great listener out of necessity when she lost another capability, we must intentionally hone our ability to listen. When we meet someone who is a great listener, we forget that they worked hard to develop that skill. When we want to communicate, whether it is to another individual, throughout an organization, or to the community at large, we must start by looking outward and listening.
I’m a counselor for Boy Scouts working on the communications merit badge. In the nine requirements for the badge, the importance of listening is mentioned four times. Sometimes that’s a hard sell working with teenage boys, getting them to listen more actively. But then it’s a hard sell for a lot of more grown-up folks, too, the idea that that communication might mean more than telling other people what you want them to hear.
Great insight. I am sure the most important thing to the boys around you is your modeling the art of listening. Thanks for the comment. MB