One of the reasons I believe frustration was so high during our most recent presidential election campaign is because we weren’t really having conversations about what people thought and why.
As a result we weren’t hearing each other. Maybe more than ever, political talk was taboo. In many cases, especially in the typically practical and libertarian small business community, it was hard to figure out where people really stood on Trump, Clinton or the write-in they were considering.
An area of struggle
Real conversation is disappearing into email and text messages, the latter of which is equivalent to a verbal grunt and is often summarized by an emoticon. As a result, we are losing our ability to talk to each other. Recently, I was on a college campus in the student center. It was scary quiet.
The student center was the hub of interaction and conversation on a college campus 25 years ago. Now, friends are sitting together buried in their smartphones and laptops, and occasionally texting the person sitting next to them.
Conversation is how we process what we think we know, validate that with others, and participate in real-time creation of insight and understanding that can turn into action and impact. We may be building a solution with a client or taking the time to get feedback that we may have become blind to by virtue of our role or perception.
If we’re talking to colleagues, we could be providing support and building a bond that can be leveraged to get more done together.
I recently had a conversation with one of the country’s top lawyers who is a great thinker. He relayed a recent exercise where he had to pair off with someone he did not know well and just listen to someone else’s story without being able to ask a question or interrupt and without rendering judgment. He had to just listen.
This is someone who has built a career on asking questions to clarify and advance ideas. It was really hard for him to do that, but at the end of the exercise, he said that the simple process of listening without judgment or interruption created a powerful bond. Listening all the way through changed his questions, his experience and his understanding. He commented that, by the end of the discussion, he had made a friend.
I think we know that most of us don’t listen enough to our employees, our advisers, our families and our friends. We’ve been conditioned to move quickly, decide and advance to the next thing — that’s just what we do. When you listen, others feel heard, which drives real conversation that leads to dialogue, insight, understanding and impact.
It may be cliché to say that we need to limit the distractions and take the time to listen. But think about resolving to try it out and spend a week focused on really listening to the people and ideas around you. You might be surprised at how much that one kept resolution might matter. ●
Steve Millard is president and executive director at Council of Smaller Enterprises