Listening is obviously an essential part of any debate or negotiation. But listening is much more than simply hearing, it implies understanding – and to understand is to be able to begin to build a strategy. The quicker people agree to ‘listen’, the faster they can progress in any debate.
Young children are the worst listeners. ‘No’ is a word they understand very quickly but simply ignore, when it suits them. If they want something they yell or shout, if they don’t get it, they resort to some form of violence or bullying very quickly. Their frustration control levels are very low. Similarly this kind of behavior is also sometimes found in adults who have somewhere learnt that by being aggressive or over assertive they can get their own way. However these adults are very often blocked in middle management in their careers. This is mainly because they are unable to maintain alliances and to retain the really creative and motivated people who work fort hem. They are unable to listen and to appreciate what is in front of them.
In senior management, assertiveness is simply not enough. Contrary to common belief, successful top managers may appear hard and unyielding but they are in fact often among the best negotiators ever. They have learnt that in order to progress and to maintain their position they need to be accepted not only by their fellow management colleagues but also by their staff. Successful managers are instinctive listeners, trying to gleam useful information from wherever it is available. They know that it is important to understand the real situation, to be compassionate – compromising when necessary. They know how to use all the tricks to get their own way, but not at the expense of the important resources around them.
Martin Luther King once said “You should love your enemy, because love is the only thing powerful enough to turn an enemy into a friend”. He understood that even in the depths of oppression and despair, where those around him were full of hatred, that the only hope for America and to resolving the appalling racial prejudices that it harbored – was to go way beyond the issues in front of him and to try and understand exactly where his ‘opponents’ fears and hatred were coming from. He realized that by ‘understanding’, one could begin to sympathize, and that by sympathizing one could learn to live along side their enemies and from there it would be possible to build relationships, respect and even, in time, love.
Now I am not saying you should ‘love’ all your colleagues in business but when you are confronted by someone who is blocking you, bullying or even simply not listening to you, it is important to go beyond the words and rhetoric, to find the hidden agenda and to try understand exactly where the confronting person is coming from. Even if the message or lack of understanding on their part is very disagreeable. By finding the good qualities in our ‘opponents’, by searching for their positive aspects and strong points, instead of focusing on their bad ones, you can begin to sympathize and to find areas of mutual respect and from there on, build bridges and find a path forward.
No one person is bigger than a business; no one person can be effective on their own. The nature of humans is that we need to build alliances, without them we are weak, with them we have power and the ability to make a difference.