We all have opinions, and there are plenty of times when we want to interject those thoughts into a conversation because we believe we’ll improve a person’s situation.
Maybe we simply disagree with what we see, or what we think we see. Or we don’t like what we hear, or what we think we hear. The question is, are we really listening?
Did our associate, neighbor, spouse or child actually ask for our opinion? Are we truly bringing value to the person who is investing their trust in us, perhaps even opening a vein and sharing something they have not told anyone? Or are we using the conversation as a pulpit to forward our own agenda, speak our mind and say what we feel like saying?
Many times, we forget what others are asking us to do is to simply listen. Just listen. Maybe the conversation starts with, “Can I tell you something?” Or, “I’m frustrated about … ” Or, “I can’t stop thinking about … ” Do you recognize that your role is to listen? I admit I often miss the cue. I am so quick to share, and often realize after I’ve given my opinion — and I’ve been known to have strong, direct thoughts that I do not hold back — that I would have been more helpful by letting the person know that I’m here to listen.
Listening is extremely challenging. It requires an open mind and heart, with no judging. And, sometimes, listening means seeing and being present in a situation so you can fully appreciate the scenario and embrace the gifts of others.
Here is a situation when I recognized I needed to listen with my eyes and heart. Bishop Roger Gries told me this story, and it really stuck with me. He was sitting in church during a confirmation (a sacrament in the Catholic church) and he glanced across the aisle at a younger boy who was a confirmee with very long messy hair reaching past his shoulders. Bishop Gries thought it looked shaggy and the boy should have gotten it cut for the occasion. What was this kid doing with long hair? Bishop Gries wondered why the boy’s parents weren’t pushing him to the barbershop.
After Mass, the boy asked him, “Hey, what do you think about my long hair?” He then went on, “I have a girl in my class with bad cancer. And I’m growing my hair so I can donate it to an organization that makes wigs for children who are cancer patients.”
Here was this young boy doing something so genuinely thoughtful, so selfless to benefit his friend and other sick children. He had a much greater purpose than growing his hair for some trivial reason. He was less concerned with what people thought about him and more concerned with what he was doing for a friend. Listen, don’t judge.
You don’t know what others are going through in their personal lives. In business, you don’t know everything going on in employees’ homes, what their lives are like or whether they’re struggling with an issue. People do bring their home problems and concerns to work, and their work problems and concerns home. We’re all human. We’re imperfect. We cannot compartmentalize every aspect of our lives and operate like robots.
I try to remember this in business so I can lead with compassion and be a good listener. It’s not easy to do. I remind myself constantly to try not to judge but to listen, watch and learn from others.
I have learned that sometimes we need to work on listening first, trying to be less judgmental and assisting only when asked.
Umberto P. Fedeli is CEO of The Fedeli Group