The Art of Listening 

When’s the last time that you really listened to someone who was telling you something you disagreed with? Did you let this person finish what they had to say? Did you ask any questions for clarification? Big chance that you did not even let this person finish what they wanted to say but tried to get them to listen to what you had to say.

What struck me particularly in 2016, and yes I know that’s behind us now, was the fact that we don’t seem to listen to one another at all. We saw the British people deciding to leave the European Union. We saw Americans electing Donald Trump as their 45th  President and we saw Jean Claude Juncker trying to explain what on earth was happening in Europe. What did the latter one say? “We haven’t explained ourselves properly”. So implicitly Juncker was blaming himself and other European politicians that the message they were trying to get across did not really land with the electorate. What he nor Hillary, nor the British politicians who favored to remain in the EU said is that they should have listened better and more regularly to what the electorate was trying to tell them.

What was it the electorate actually tried to tell them? In my opinion, and I’m not a political analyst, the message seemed loud and clear: “You guys, don’t pay any attention to my needs, my concerns – whatever they might be – nor my hopes”. “The only thing you guys are trying to do is to tell me something to believe in that I don’t really care about as it does not address my personal circumstances”.

The result of our collective failure to just listen to one another is still not completely clear as the “winners” of the various elections so far have not been able to really unfold what it is they really want to do in order to put their words into real actions.

What is clear to me anyway is that we’re all paying a price for not listening to each other anymore. The divide in society seems to get bigger and bigger and instead of building bridges based on mutual respect we have turned magnifying differences, sometimes minor as they might be, into a form of art. We have lost focus on what it is we actually have in common. Individualization taken to the extreme. Me, myself and I seem to rule our behavior.

This is just politics you might say. True but what is happening in your own organization? Do you feel your Executive Board members, your business – and team leaders really listen to what you have to say, what you feel should be the right way forward? In most people engagement survey results I have seen “Communication” is always an area of improvement. How come we still judge leaders solely on their ability to clearly verbalize their plans without really questioning their ability to properly engage with people, by listening intently and compassionately?

I would like to make a plea that we should all try – as a sort of New Year resolution – to listen more actively to what someone else has to say, to seek deep clarification in order to really understand why someone has a particular opinion. Take a deep breath, reflect and build on his or her opinion rather than saying yes, but….. and then just counter their views with your own. Communication is all about finding the right balance between speaking and listening. It’s a simple step to identify common causes again and to rebuild respect amongst us. Isn’t listening a first step towards new leadership?

Remember the Chinese proverb:

“Those who know much speak little; those who speak much know little”.

– Wim Dufourné

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