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Are You Listening? By Dr. Henry Cloud

“You won’t believe what happened today,” a leadership conference attendee said at the dinner gathering.

“What?” I asked.

“After your talk today about trust being built through connecting with another person’s reality, I had a breakthrough,” he said.

“Really? What happened?” I asked.

“Well, for the last year, I have been stuck in a logjam with my CFO and COO, and our relationship has been terrible. The problem has been that we are in the middle of acquiring another company, which is the right thing to do. There is no doubt about it. But both of them are against it and have been dragging their heels all year and pushing against me at every turn.

“So, the result is that we have lost trust. We have been stuck. My only option has been to take charge and push it forward. But that has left a lot of ripples on the people’s side of things. I have needed their support with the troops but have been unable to get it,” he went on.

“What happened today,” I asked.

“When you told us that leaders are often good ‘persuaders,’ but lousy ‘listeners,’ I got it. I saw that I had been trying for a year to persuade them to see how right this is for our company but had not once really tried to listen and connect with where they were coming from. I finally could see what was causing the logjam. I was trying to lead them to my reality without first understanding theirs,” he explained.

“So, what did you do?” I asked, sensing there was more.

“Well, after your talk, I called my COO. I told him I had just realized I had not taken the time to listen to his concerns about the merger and understand why he was so against it. I told him he was an intelligent guy I valued a lot, so it was stupid not to listen to why he did not want to go through with this deal.

“So, I wanted to get together and spend a day where I could just listen and try to understand where he was coming from. I had not done that, and I was sorry and wrong,” he said.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Well, at first, the phone was silent. … I thought he had hung up. But then he said skeptically, ‘You would do that?”

I said, “Not only would I, but I am going to. Call my assistant and get it on the calendar when I return.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“It was amazing. He talked so much that I thought he would be in the room. He said things like, ‘Well, yeah, because when we first started negotiating …” He explained his colleague’s response further but was mostly excited about one thing. “He was back. … I could feel the old Jesse again. We had not solved anything yet, but I could tell something had changed.”

He was right. Something had changed. They were on the road to an answer because a simple, life-changing practice was restoring trust: connecting through listening.

Building trust through connecting with those you lead is a bedrock leadership principle. Connection is built through feeling understood. People feel understood when the leader listens to their reality before leading them to a new one.

This is how God restored trust with us. He connected with our reality. He came here and lived the life we live. So we feel he understands, and we trust and follow him.

The leadership question is this: how well do your people feel you understand and connect with their reality? Do they feel like you really “get it?” When they do, they will be more able to follow you to another reality. They will feel, “I trust him because he really ‘gets it,’” meaning: ”He gets me. He gets what it is like for me.”

There are a thousand ways to do this, but you do it; if you are going to have people following you, they have to feel like you understand. So … before you lead, listen.


Dr. Henry Cloud is a psychologist, leadership consultant, best-selling author, and speaker whose books have sold over 5 million copies. Cloud has written or co-written more than 20 books, including the 2-million copy best seller Boundaries.



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