Active listening… No really, actually listening.

It’s been too long since my last article, so I’ve decided to squeeze one in from my WP app for Android.  I’ve already mentioned my reading of, The Third Alternative, by Stephen Covey.  A big part in the 7 Habits, as well as the 3rd Alternative is “seeking you”.  There are always, at least, two involved in any conversation and it is imperative to truly understand what the concerns of the other person are.  Active listening is essential to obtain a true understanding of these concerns.  I’ve remembered a time where I didn’t realize I was using any particular method, but active listening produced relationship changing results.

In 2006, while deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, I noticed that one of my Marines and best friends, was acting out of sorts.  Something was bothering him and it was visible in his mannerisms, quality of work, and the look in his eyes that he couldn’t hide.  I knew I had to talk to him, but didn’t know what to use to get him to talk about what was going on.  I soon found, he didn’t need me to talk to him. He needed to talk to me…. I just needed to listen.

We sat down, and I tried to open the small talk. Dead end.  I asked questions trying to get something I could then ask follow on questions… Dead end.  Then I looked at him and said, “Charlie, what’s going on?”  He just looked at me, then looked away.  I insisted, “C’mon, what’s going on…here, home, outer space?  I know you have something going on inside and it’s killing me to see you deal with it on your own.  It’s just me and you here, What’s going on?”

He started talking. At first about random things that were frustrating, “why are we even here (Iraq)? I mean, c’mon Bert (my nick name), what are we really doing here?”  I responded, “Well, I don’t think that is what you really want the answer to…but it is clear what we are doing here seems insignificant compared to what you feel you should be dealing with.  Where do you feel like you need to be?”  He looked at me, his eyes welled up… I could tell he felt vulnerable, but he trusted me.  The tears came, and it all came out.  He was truly concerned about some concern-worthy issues back home.  My throat gets tight and my eyes still water remembering the occasion.

I could have “gone after him” and talked at him, telling him how he needed to fix his attitude and step up his performance (typical Marine counseling session).  But I never was a fan of that approach, and I knew he didn’t need to hear anything from me… He needed to know someone wanted to hear from him.  When it comes to active listening and being an effective communicator and leader, I had a whole new door to communication opened for me.  Not to mention a deeper connection with one of my best friends.

Posted from my Droid RAZR

Not Just a Number

WTC Memorial Pond

I have talked about being genuine and sincere, and I have been pondering on something that I feel is an important part of demonstrating genuine and sincere concern for yourself, and others.  Also, instead of describing something you are supposed to do, this time let’s talk about something you just aren’t supposed to do – Look at and manipulate numbers.

This has nothing to do with “cooking books” or white collar crime.  Have you ever felt like just another patient at the doctor’s office, or even ER?  Have you felt like just another cubicle space at work?  Have you ever felt like just another seat on the bench or just didn’t have a seat at the table at all?  If you have, then you know what I mean when I refer to being treating like a number; just another one of many to be dealt with.  Let me say this, while scarcity can promote great levels of drive, nobody should have to feel like a number.  Let me add, we all need to ensure we, ourselves, are not making anybody else feel like just another number.

Being a number is sort of inversely related to having a purpose.  People who feel a sense of purpose don’t feel like numbers.  People with a sense of purpose try harder because they know their impact matters.  People who feel like numbers find excuses to perform at lesser levels because they feel their impact is negligible.  I’ve been in both positions, and felt those feelings, in magnificent ways.

In a business sense, I can’t think of too many things that a business can do worse than treating their customers like numbers.  It just tells customers, “We don’t really need you”.  All over the globe, business mission statements have adapted, showing a sense of “care” or interest in each individual customer.  Of course this has to be done within reason, but friendly customer service and simple human interaction with a genuine customer service associate is free.   Customers will always have a choice, and with that, just a price and features list will not grab loyalty.  When trying to gain and retain customers, especially in hard to differentiate product or service industries, no business can afford to tell a genuine customer, “We don’t really need you”.

In a personal sense, I’ve decided that I can make an impact in this arena and I encourage others to do the same.  Whether at work with a co-worker or customer/client, or off-hours with family or friends – don’t make anyone feel like a number.  I am going to be consciously working on my active listening skills, and ensuring whoever has my attention truly has my attention.  I can tell when my kids try to tell me a story, and they fade off knowing I haven’t really listened… I intend on changing that.  To me it might have come across as just another story.  To my kids, maybe it was one of few precious times they got to have my attention and explain to me a little bit about their world for the day.

With that, I say be aware.  Be aware that your interaction with someone may be “routine” for you, but to them the quality/content/frequency of the interaction may carry weight unseen to you.  Every experience is a new one.  If you feel yourself blowing somebody off, remember the last time you had horrible service as just another patient, or your proposal was dismissed as just another stack of paper to be read.  The relationships I have valued most and have been so memorable to me all have one thing in common – that person never let me feel like a number.  The relationships I have abhorred and made me the most frustrated all had one thing in common – I felt like just another number.