What We Learn by Listening

I love all aspects of our Core Process.

My Communication loves the 201 Education Session because of the clarity we offer individuals around how they are wired – a descriptive, not a prescriptive approach.

My Arranger and Woo love the facilitation of our Learning Community as we teach each individual team member back to the group, reflecting on their talents and the unique role they play on the team. Getting to see light bulbs come on for each person as it relates to the understanding of themselves and their colleagues is energizing.

Recently, I have a had an even greater affection for the 1 to 1 Conversation. As I was reflecting on why, I stumbled upon a quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which states, 

A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.”
I realized the reason the 1 to 1 Conversation is so meaningful to me – it is a place where I learn through listening.

Each time I sit face to face with an individual to specifically spend an hour learning about their narrative and behaviors, I am listening for Strengths. I am listening for talents, drawing out what is right about them through meaningful questions, and speaking back how I see their Strengths at work. I am humbled each time I see the whites of someone’s eyes and get to experience a slice of their uniqueness – the way they are hard wired for greatness like no other person on the planet. As a Strengths expert, I know I am offering my clients insights into how their Strengths are at play in their lives, but what I have found to be so humbling is the insights clients are giving me.  In the past month, here are just two of the things I have learned as a result of listening to the people across the table from me.

Integrity is easy until it is hard

As I sat across from a leader at a university, this phrase just popped out, 30 minutes into the conversation. She has the Strengths of Strategic, Command, Arranger, Activator, and Futuristic. She was describing how deeply her Strengths resonated with her and how she found integrity to be the bedrock of all 5 of her Strengths. She said she owns everything she does (Activator/Command) and has found gratitude and thankfulness to be the keys to her success (Strategic/Arranger).

To her, integrity was easy in the sense of it naturally flowing out of her honesty, values, and authenticity as a leader. She found the follow through to be the difficult part – the times when her leadership demanded the exposure of problems areas or accountability for breaches in integrity. She was not deterred from challenging tasks in front of her or those she anticipated on the horizon (Futuristic).

I realized the confidence this must bring to her team members, as she honestly enters into hard things with her head held high.

Building relationships is hard and breaking them is easy

Just a few weeks after meeting the leader I just described, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with a woman who works in a government institution in Washington, D.C. She said something strangely familiar to what I had just learned, and yet was altogether new. This client has the Strengths of Achiever, Learner, Positivity, Input, and Adaptability.

As she described her leadership style, she said she tried to tailor her approach to a person. She then commented that, “Building relationships is hard and breaking them is easy.” In this situation, the combination of the client’s Strengths sounded very similar to the Theme of Individualization. To her, it was important to collect information and truly get to know how a person works (Input/Learner), in order to build a strong relationship. She recognized that this process involves an investment of time and emotion, which was worth the effort (Achiever/Positivity). Her insight came from her ability to sense how easy it was to undo this relational investment. I believe her Strength of Adaptability recognized how quickly a relational investment can be “broken”.

For this client, her drive came from a desire to build healthy, strong relationships, but her strength as a leader came from her ability to be relationally flexible based on the understanding that people are flawed and will make mistakes.

The Bigger Learning Lesson

I have read many books on leadership, mentoring, coaching, and team development over the course of my study and career. The two conversations described above provided some specific leadership lessons but moreover, they helped me learn how deeply I resonate with Longfellow’s statement – a single conversation across the table with a wise person can truly provide more learning than ten years of book study. I’m learning to not discount the amount of learning that can happen as you simply listen to another person. The insights I have gained by listening to an individual’s story – fleshing out their experiences, behaviors, patterns of thought – have blown me away and I know will continue to as I allow myself to learn from listening.

Who’s sat across from you?

Who have you had a conversation with within the last month? What did you learn from listening? How can you apply what you have learned to your current context?