My 92 year old father still has the ability to connect with others in a way that I can only aspire to achieve. I took him to the pathology clinic for blood tests recently. We were greeted by a grumpy nurse behind the desk, who did not even look up as she asked what we wanted and gestured to us to take a seat. I was annoyed by her behaviour and concerned that my dad would be on the receiving end of her grumpiness. However, much to my surprise, when they came out after having his blood sample taken, they were like long lost friends. I asked my dad what had happened while they were together that had caused such a transformation. He said that he asked her if she was having a bad day because she looked quite worried to him. She had then poured out her problems to him. They were short staffed she told him and she had been under enormous pressure all day.
My father had listened intently, as he always does and agreed with her that it would indeed be hard for anyone in her position to deal with the challenges she had on her plate. He completely got the nurse’s experience. He did not offer any solutions to fix her problems. But my dad’s interest in her and his willingness to understand what it was like in her world, completely transformed the situation. By the time they were finished, they were on a first name basis and had exchanged details about both their families. The nurse was glowing by the time we left.
I reflected on the power of that type of listening. If we can connect with people around us in that way then we can achieve our objective of being a trusted advisor to our key stakeholders. Steven Covey puts it well in his timeless book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit no. 5 is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” How much time is spent preparing for what we want to say versus listening to our stakeholders and understanding their problems? As happened in my father’s example, a whole new world opens up if we first invest in understanding the other person’s experience.
There is also some reassurance for us introverts that listening is in fact a powerful leadership attribute. The book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain, references an experiment where introvert leaders were more effective than extrovert leaders in a team competition folding t-shirts. The main reason for their success was that the introverted team leaders were more likely to listen to a team member who had secretly been given a fast way to fold the shirts. On the other hand, the extroverted leaders were less likely to listen to the team member who had the fast process and missed the opportunity to speed the process up.
Where could you listen to understand your key stakeholders?
Best regards, Brian
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