When President Bush announced he was visiting Europe, columnist Thomas Friedman offered some advice. Just listen. No speeches. No proclamations. Just listen. Of course, no world leader would accept such advice. In fact, few leaders anywhere would accept that advice. If things aren’t going well, they’ll talk their way out of the mess. Unfortunately, that seldom works.
Imagine if a world leader (or you at a staff meeting) simply said, “I’m here to listen. I won’t make promises today because I want to learn from you. And the only way to do that is to listen to what you have to say.” And then the hard part – shut up. And the even harder part – stay shut up. First people would be shocked and would wait for you to break the uncomfortable silence. But as you sit there and tension builds, someone will speak. If you stay shut up, then another person will speak. And one after that. Pretty soon they’ll be on a roll, and you could gain valuable insights into what’s going on with them. You’ll hear about their hopes, fears, advice, and what they are willing to do to make things better.
After that meeting (or meetings), you come back to them with what you heard, the ways in which they influenced you, and what you plan to do.
Listening is a powerful. Too bad so few use it.