Unity is our new word. And the best way to create that unity is to learn how to truly listen.
As we put 2020 in our rearview mirror and turn our focus forward to our hopes and dreams for a great 2021, we are excited at the prospects of at long last stepping out of our homes and striding back to the friendly confines of our work offices. We will unlock the door and turn on the lights, crank open the windows, and shoo away the cobwebs from our tables, chairs, and computers, and finally, chisel out that half-a-cup of now petrified coffee from the bottom of our favorite mug.
As your colleagues start arriving, don’t be surprised by (stare at) their new look: longer hair, flowing beards, graying temples, and perhaps even a few more wrinkles. Your first thought will be to overload them with everything that happened to you over the past many months. And there is so much to share (Really? Really!). But before you start to deliver your vocal discourse, take a moment to take a breath.
There is an old adage: “Speak so people will want to listen.” That is excellent advice. Certainly, I have been to my share of conferences where I wished the speaker had heeded that advice. But for this moment, I would like to suggest that we flip that saying around. It is essential for us to: “Listen so people will want to speak.” That’s right, genuinely listen and be curious about what the other person has to say, what stories and experiences they have to share, what common ground can we find.
The best way to let someone know how much you missed them is just to listen. You will get your turn to unburden yourself, but not right now. Don’t interrupt: listen. Don’t judge: Listen. Don’t even think of a snappy retort. Just Listen: Listen completely.
Listening used to be thought of as a passive activity. By sitting quietly with hands folded and ears open, you have given away the power because, of course, power is held by the one who is speaking. But in reality, it is just the opposite. The most basic and powerful way to connect with another person is to listen to them.
There is nothing so valuable in making a connection as paying complete attention. One of my speaking associates has a wonderful turn of the phrase that goes like this: Attention Pays – so Pay Attention. As President Biden recently shared with the country, “Unity is the path forward.” Let’s open up and all move forward together by taking the time to be in the moment and listen.