I’ve got to admit, in my 20’s, and 30’s I probably did more talking than listening at work. Connected to that was a healthy sense of ego; maybe not arrogance, but definitely ego – trying to demonstrate what I knew or what I could solve. My listening on the job was often more about hearing and understanding than connecting. It is interesting to me now how often I see connected ‘talking’ and ‘ego,’ as well as ‘listening’ and ‘humility.’ Hmm, I wonder what that means?

I don’t know exactly when or how my evolution began, but it was tied to a desire to become a more effective leader. Part of the evolution came from greater security as a person and a leader. I had success which gave me the ‘permission’ to explore, to expand my thinking and what I did differently. Part of that exploration was with my father, the engineer.

My father is very different from me – more introverted (contemplative and quiet). After my mother passed, I had the chance to get to know my father on a much deeper level. I learned to be ‘present’ with my father without speaking, simply enjoying his company. When we did talk there was more of a give and take to our conversations that hadn’t been as present. I was able to find out more of what he was thinking, and feeling. For a guy who liked to talk this was a major shift for me!

At work I began to seek out people who weren’t like me. They tended to be more introverted, or have different values. I asked more questions. I not only listened for their answers, but looked for the common ground where we could connect. This activity opened a new appreciation for the diversity of others, not only in terms of personality, but also values. I came to appreciate their gifts and what they had to contribute. These interactions led to better discussions and decisions as an organization.

Perhaps the greatest part of my evolution was no longer feeling compelled to offer my opinions first, no longer needing to always ‘prove myself’, no longer be the guy with all the answers. With a little more humility came more peace, and more willingness to engage with others in deeper and more meaningful ways; a greater willingness to listen and reflect. I am still evolving.

Listening in order to connect is one of the greatest gifts we give to one another. It demonstrates our respect for them, and how much we care. Often, in the ‘connecting’ the other person will feel greater support and more valued, the cornerstone of engagement. Genuine listening creates the space in which to learn; to reduce our conflict and improve our ability and willingness to compromise. What do you observe about your ability to listen to connect? What do you see around you? Is there a change that would be beneficial for you?

Here are some thoughts for listening to connect.

  1. Be more interested in what others are saying than what you are saying. To borrow from Covey, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” It is the chief way that we send the message that your ideas and you matter to me.
  2. Empathize as a routine part of how you listen. Compassion and empathy send a powerful message about how you care.
  3. Help people to feel valuable. People who feel valued are more secure which leads to greater capability.
  4. Help others to listen better by helping them to take time to ‘breathe’ – emotionally and mentally. In a world that is full of ‘busyness’ breathing is the pause that allows us/others to ‘reset’ and to ‘refocus.’ In that moment is a time for them to listen to connect.

During this season of celebration, I would invite you to take time to reflect, to listen, to connect on a deeper level with those you work with, those you love, and, if you are so inclined, with your God.