Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

Business Leaders: We Hear All the Talk, But Are You Listening?

In my opinion, good listeners are continually refining their skills of attention, empathy and most of all, reticence. Listening comes more naturally to some, while others have to work hard to silence themselves and fully digest the thoughts of others. Over the years, I’ve made a conscious effort to improve as a listener, and I do think I’ve gotten better.

I recently heard a speech from Robert “Robin” Henry Alexander Eames that reinforced and broadened my thoughts on the subject of listening. I’ll get to how, but first, a little context. Lord Eames served as the 103rd Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland for 20 years. He was a confidant of Irish and British prime ministers and a negotiator between the Irish Republican Army and Loyalist paramilitaries. He contributed greatly to the peace process in Northern Ireland, so much so that he and Desmond Tutu have been the only two recipients of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Award for Outstanding Service.

When Lord Eames started working for accord in Northern Ireland, he first had to get to a cease-fire and then try and build relationships in a volatile environment. He was successful, and he shared his tactics with our audience. He urged that we become better listeners to help reconcile the differences we must work through in our daily lives. To do this effectively, we must move from the ideal to the accomplishment. He shared that reconciliation has to do with truly understanding relationships. This is a journey with no end.

As I sat there, I realized the truth and relative simplicity in this notion. Leaders should get an armistice of sorts so that we all start to listen to each other. Too often, we are fond of hearing the sound of our own voice. “I must tell you my opinion. Wait until I tell you why I’m right—you’ll agree with me.”  How many times have I felt those words implied over the years? Maybe, if we all listened a little more, we would pick up on a detail that could ultimately lead to resolution of a conflict.

In this process you might see value in a new viewpoint and vice versa. In order for that to happen, you must first be willing, and then have the courage “to put your head above the roof parapet” as they used to say in Northern Ireland. Be the bigger person and silence yourself long enough to hear others. You’ll become a better leader. I’ll be there with you, taking Lord Eames’ challenge to hone my listening skills.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.