Kate White, a reader of the blog “Choosing to Change: Leading Diverse Perspectives” by Paige Haefer posed an insightful question.
I agree that self-awareness and knowledge are key, but where does a leader find motivation to choose the difficult path of valuing conflicting opinions? As a contributor, I value collaboration and distinct perspectives to arrive at a stronger concept, idea, project. Not everyone has that understanding. Where’s the business case for a leader to develop unique employees when time and money are on the line?
A very smart woman once told me that every person needs 3 things. They need to feel HEARD, VALUED & RESPECTED. I have come to realize how right she was. It helps to explain why power struggles evolve in any type of community whether it be work, schools, families, etc. People are desperate to be heard, feel as though they are genuinely valued, and perceive that they are respected by others.
I was recently at a leadership meeting and I opened my presentation with this concept. I can assure you there were some perplexed faces looking at me wondering where I might be headed with this “soft” topic of Heard, Valued & Respected. I challenged everyone in the room to think about a relationship in their life they struggle with, whether it be their spouse, their children, or their employees, and how those people would respond when asked what was lacking in that relationship. I instantly saw a different look sweep across all of their faces. Personally, I believe many (mostly a male audience) were thinking about their wives and the look was one of panic, but nonetheless they were thinking of someone and it had an impact. I know this because you could have heard a pin drop and no one was on their phone or checking their email. I ended that segment by saying “I can assure you if you ask any of those disgruntled people about their issues it will relate to at least one or all of these 3 things.”
Why was that important to address in a business meeting? It was important because in most jobs we have to solve big problems, and often across large global organizations among diverse groups of people. I have found that being successful at this requires talking and listening to a lot of people, and being able to do it quickly. As Kate pointed out in her question above, when time is of the essence, how do you keep diverse opinions valued?
Through my experiences, I have noted that the problems all differ but the themes are generally the same. Somewhere along the way communication breaks down and people do not perceive that are being heard, valued or respected. As I work through solutions with leaders and teams, it always comes down to two main components:
Identify the root cause issue; talking and listening to people. Not just listening to their words, but the meaning behind them (Heard)
Develop an effective communication strategy to address it (Respected, Valued)
Even if you don’t tell people what they hoped to hear, they have a level of appreciation knowing that they were heard and that their thoughts were respected and valued.
Like many things in life, it is simple but not easy. Communication / Connection is what makes or breaks human beings. Without it, babies literally die, so it’s well beyond “touchy feely”. Human beings are hard wired for connection and when we feel disconnected we shut down emotionally and often physically. For a business, this may seem like a “soft” issue until you consider how you obtain hard core results – through connected, engaged people.
Throughout history, a plethora of books have been written about business and new ideas on how to be successful. However, the one consistent theme that has never changed is that people move business. Nothing happens without people. If you truly want to get the best people have to offer, it is imperative that they feel heard, valued and respected. So when people ask me “Where do I start and how do I get better at this?”, I recommend the following, aligning with Paige Haefer:
Know yourself. Be aware of your intent and it how it aligns with your impact. Your trusted people should be able to tell you honestly.
Know what emotional intelligence is and how to fine tune those skills. People have emotions and they don’t check them at the door when they come to work. They bring them in! Being able to decifer what people are truly trying to communicate is a competitive advantage.
Challenge yourself to think more broadly and practice communicating more effectively. The world is constantly changing, and the most successful leaders think with vision and a variable mindset, seeing opportunities versus obstacles. They also know how to share their vision effectively, getting others excited about it and on board.