The Story of Our American Dream, Part 19: Value & Listen

american-flagAnother lesson in the dogged pursuit of My American Dream has been learning to value, listen—really listen—to the opinions of those I’ve asked to accompany me on the journey.

If I’ve asked somebody to have faith in my goals, then I need to demonstrate a willingness to listen to their ideas and suggestions, as well. Every one of us has experienced those occasions when a “disconnect” in communication over something relatively small and simple can quickly escalate into something large and damaging. It happens in our personal lives and it happens in our professional ones just as readily.

And it’s more than simply listening to the words. It’s listening to the intent BEHIND the words. This can be a hard-won lesson, and here’s a personal example.

Some time back, when working with a not-for-profit organization, I was disappointed to learn that one of the participants, a top performer in the system, would not be attending an upcoming event. This was unprecedented in the history of the group, and I was immediately concerned about the message this noticeable absence would send.

This individual was up for a prestigious award, and as a member of the board of directors, we had to uphold the established policy that no award would be given to non-attendees of the annual convention.

Word of this rule got back to this person after the convention. The reaction was immediate and incendiary. There were hurt feelings and real loss to the team that worked so hard and lost the recognition.

I was adamant in my stance, and it took the intervention of a third party, someone who was communicating with this individual on a more direct, personal level to make me stop and consider things from a different perspective.

Whereas I saw somebody who I thought was simply being stubborn or even “difficult,” this third party was listening to some very real, legitimate concerns from the non-attendee.

I was overlooking the fact that this individual had become a top performer by following the blueprint of our nonprofit organization and taking to heart its principles. He had declined to attend the convention for a very legitimate reason: In a tough economy, rather than opting to lay off any staff members, he had asked everyone in his department to work reduced hours until the organization’s financial picture was healthier. Under those circumstances, this individual was concerned that it would seem frivolous and counterproductive if his staff, having tightened their own belts in the face of economic hardship, were to see him spend money to fly off to a convention held in a location that is viewed by many as a vacation destination.

It was so simple. And so obvious. Yet it took a third party, someone with no emotional stake in the scenario, to take the time to talk directly to this person and get the full story. Once this had been brought to my attention, I did what I should have done at the start: I picked up the phone and talked directly to this individual who had chosen to miss the convention, and listened to all he had to say.

The experience has taught me that LISTENING is an active, not a passive process. It’s not enough to hear the words when someone talks to me; to get the full intent, I have to set aside any pre-conceived notions of what is being said and get to the heart of what is actually being communicated. It’s a policy I have transferred wholeheartedly into my Handyman Matters business.

And I need to remind myself of this goal on a regular basis. If I’m asking others to accompany on this path, then I must be prepared to listen to them every step of the way.