Character Creates Opportunity – The Decision to Listen: Wednesday, November 13, 2013

One of the strongest human needs, after the basics of food, clothing, and shelter, is the realization that we actually matter to someone or some cause.  The need to matter is one of the reasons the theme song from the 1980s hit TV series Cheers can still be recalled by so many people.  A place where “everybody knows your name” clearly touched on the need for all of us to be in a place where we mattered and people appreciated our presence.

A key area to strengthen our character and have a positive impact on others is to meet this basic human need of people to feel they matter.

In the workplace, there are many ways we demonstrate that people matter like reward and recognition programs, group announcements, and one on one meetings.  On the home front, there are many times we make family members feel they matter through birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and awards for doing well in sports or academics.  All of these opportunities are very helpful to meet that basic human need of people to feel they matter.

We invest a significant amount of time and effort in putting together these more formal opportunities to show people they matter.  However, we often overlook the most valuable, consistently available opportunity to demonstrate that someone really matters.  The opportunity comes when we build and strengthen our character through our decision to listen to others.  Listening, with the intent of truly understanding another person, is an immediate, fairly simple way to show someone they matter.

So what gets in our way?  There are often two major obstacles that we need to overcome as we build and strengthen our character to listen and demonstrate to people that they matter.

(1) We need to control our desire to quickly respond, make our point, show how much we know, or organize our “brilliant” response.   We need to overcome the desire to respond and focus purely on listening to the other person.  As the saying goes, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. “  Focusing first on listening and not responding can go a long way in showing people that they matter and that you care about them.

(2) In today’s “always on” world on instant communication, we need to be mindful of the negative impact the sound of an incoming email, text, alert, and phone message have on our ability to be in the moment listening to someone else.  How many times have we glanced down at our smartphone or been distracted by the “buzz” when talking to our spouse, our children, a coworker, an employee, or a customer?  That action immediately sends a signal that the other person does not matter as much as the incoming text, email, or Facebook update.

In my own personal experience, I am extremely vigilant when sitting with a customer to either silence my phone or shut it off completely to ensure the customer knows I am “all in” with the deal being discussed and focused on listening first. However, I hate to admit it, how many times I let the buzz of a text message or email distract me from a conversation with my wife, my children, or close friend.  The obvious misalignment in my actions, and maybe yours too, calls for a strong reinforcement of the fact that no human accomplishment like closing the “big deal”, landing that big promotion, or accomplishing some great personal goal, will ever compensate for a failure at home.  Our failure to overcome the two major obstacles above, especially at home with those we love, amounts to small fractures in the foundation of our families which can cause major challenges down the road.  When we focus on listening to others we send the signal that they matter and we meet them at a clear point of need.

Our Character Creates Opportunity® to build and strengthen relationships through our personal decision to listen with the intent to understand.

What has helped you become a better listener?  If you would like to leave a comment, please do so below.

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