Courageous Listening

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” (Winston Churchill)

We all live in the rat race of life, rushing from one event to another, rarely taking time out to listen. I am a person of action, hoping to see positive progress but small talk frustrates me. Listening is one of my biggest challenges, which is also one of my special joys. This does not come easily, but I have learnt that when I listen deeply, something vital resonates with me. 

A Duty to Listen

In life and indeed in business, the skill of listening courageously is something we all need to develop.  Author, Nancy Kline has written that, “the quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.” The ‘key’ to this attention is the ability to listen deeply.

If we can listen intently, giving our full attention, then people will broaden their thought patterns. If people within our organizations heighten their thought process, then our organizations will benefit. For example, if I listen attentively to my CFO, he will feel appreciated, valued and connected to me. However, if I am distracted and pre-occupied, giving little to no attention to his words, then our connection suffers.

I might have a shorter conversation, but the long term impact carries much further than the few minutes I saved.

How to Listen More

What does it mean to listen more within our organizations? This means taking the time to listen to those we interact with. Listening to an individual and reading between the lines.  In other words, taking in what is being said, but also taking note of what is not being said. Listening to those around us is often difficult because of our time constraints. However, we need to put our ear to the ground and really hear the hearts of the people around us.

Sometimes, what we hear is at odds with our own reasoning within any given situation and sometimes, what we hear is a challenge and adds pressure due to our own weaknesses. However, by listening to a person speaking, we show respect to the person. By doing so, we show that we care and that what is important to them is important to us. By listening carefully, we also subject ourselves to possible change of our own thought patterns.  This takes courage because it might mean that we need to change our direction, or that we might need to do something in response to what we have heard.

I would encourage you to work hard to listen more. This means taking the time to really hear the heart of your family member or your work colleague. Set aside listening moments with individuals and with groups where you really take the time to listen to what is being said and to what is not being said.

In these moments of listening, focus fully on the person speaking – don’t allow distractions, like your cell phone or your personal agenda to draw you away. Focus your eyes on them. Don’t think of your response or get defensive – instead understand what they are saying to you and respect their point of view.

Be Vigilant to Increase Listening

If we can increase the level of listening in our organizations, we will see increased engagement in our teams which will translate into more business success.  We will fully understand what is happening within the life of our organizations.

I recently heard an example of a company which asked its staff: “If you were the CEO of this company for a week, what would you change?” This brief exercise gave the staff the space to speak and be heard by the CEO and the leadership. A much deeper insight into the real issues were divulged by the staff. The CEO could then respond proactively to the issues raised. By listening, she won back the hearts of her staff, by acting on a few pointers shared by them.

But then again, women in my opinion are better listeners than men, and maybe we as men should learn a lesson from our female counterparts.

Courageous Listening

One of the most courageous things we can do is listen for the voice of God in our lives. As Psalm 37:7-9 says: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”

For the human race, waiting on God and listening for His voice is often incredibly difficult.  Proverbs 18:13 reminds us that “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” To be successful in life we need to be courageous in listening to God’s voice and to His heart for us and our businesses.

In the well-known biblical story of Job, we see that his moment of self-vindication explained the silence of God. Only when Job came to the place where he was willing to listen, did God start speaking and gave this good man reasons for his suffering. As long as a man is defending himself, God will remain silent. As long as Job thought he had some righteous ground on which to stand, God’s silence remains. This is true in our lives as well.

AlanlouisPicAbout the Author: Dr Alan Louis is a third generation entrepreneur in a family with a 100-year business history. He devoted his life to Christianity as a child. Awarded a PhD in Commerce, is an Ultra Ironman Triathlete Gold medallist and was inducted in the IBC Hall of Fame for entrepreneurship. Internationally he has served on more than 100 private corporate boards, and has experienced the trials and successes of commerce for 3 decades.

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