Continuing with my recent theme on the importance of listening (you can find earlier posts here, here and here), I was struck this week by two examples of people doing exactly that. Both are in the political context, which is understandably the main focus of the media, given the political polarization in society.
But the lessons apply equally to those of us in business. We seek to earn the support and trust of myriad stakeholders, some of whom are deeply suspicious of us and outright opposed to what they think we stand for. We rightly expend a lot of effort developing an authentic narrative that we think will help those stakeholders understand us.
This makes sense, of course, but we also must recognize that an essential element of seeking to be understood is seeking to understand. In other words, if we want others to listen to what we have to say and to consider its value, we must do the same.
This is the point of the third Page Principle, which is, “Listen to the stakeholder.” It also goes to the heart of the Page Model, where we argue that the beginning of stakeholder engagement is seeking shared belief. That requires an effort to figure out where we have common ground, and we can only do that by listening to each other.
Here are the two examples that gave me some heart last week:
First, Oprah’s 60 Minutes reunion with a focus group in Michigan tells the remarkable story of how a deeply split group of partisans built personal relationships of trust. They still hold onto fundamental disagreements, but their growing friendships make them much more willing to actually hear each other and to build small areas of agreement. One participant summed it all up with this: “Everybody wants to feel understood, but it’s a very different thing to want to understand.”
The second example was in a David Brooks column in the New York Times about the polarization around gun control. The interesting part is his reference to Better Angels, a non-profit group seeking to depolarize America by hosting structured conversations that allow fiercely divided opponents to see each other as fellow humans, rather than anonymous and hated others.
The lesson: In this polarized digital world, actual human contact and a willingness to listen to the other can break down barriers and show us that we actually share more in common than we think we do when we only emphasize our differences.
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