“Winning the right to be heard” is another maxim I learned in my years as a volunteer Young Life leader. It simply meant, as leaders, we worked to have students granted us the opportunity to share the Gospel with them. We’d do this first by going to where they were at (physically, emotionally, socially) and building authentic, caring relationships with them. As a Young Life leader I found this maxim to be true, students were significantly more interested in what I had to say only after I demonstrated that I cared for them first.
Stephen Covey, in his classic book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, identifies this “win the right to be heard” concept as 5th of his seven habits. He called it “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Covey articulates this fundamental truth about human nature – people care about what others have to say only after believing others care for first. And what better way to demonstrate care for another person than to understand their perspective before trying to convince them to move to a different position.
As a leader in a non-profit organization, I’ve found that winning the right to be heard is absolutely the most effective way to move others to a new place. Why? Because non-profits have many constituent groups (including staff, donors, board, volunteers) to whom I lead and, at some level, I also work for and am accountable to. This means I can’t rely solely on my “positional” authority to move people in a new direction. And, more importantly, if I’m after commitment not compliance, then I’m compelled to seek first to understand before I’m understood, because people become committed when they know they’ve been heard.
And this principle is at the center of leadership at SpringHill – to go where we believe God’s called us to go, to be the kind of organization He’s called us to be – we need to earn people’s commitment to our mission and vision, we need their hearts, minds and resources to be with us. And to gain that level of trust, people need to sense first that we know, hear and care for them first as people.
As I wrote in my last post, not actively listening to others will eventually lead to a person failing in their job. One of the major reasons is that a person who doesn’t listen or attempt to understand others will ultimately end up mistreating people.
Why is this true? Because not actively listening to others means we won’t truly know and understand a person’s motives, thinking or perspective. Without listening it’s impossible to understand who they are and where they’ve come from as people. When this happens it’s easy to slip into thinking of people as “cogs”, “parts” or “resources” and not as individuals.
Now take a moment to think about how we treat things such as cogs, parts, and resources. Don’t we use, leverage, manage, drain, control, and abuse them if it advances our agenda? Such behavior and attitudes may be ethically acceptable for inanimate objects but they are clearly wrong when it comes to people. Treating people as things is simply mistreatment of people.
And mistreat of people is obviously unacceptable for those who want to make an enduring and positive impact on both the lives of others and the world.
So to avoid slipping into this pattern of seeing and treating people as things we need to lead through relationships because relationships requires listening and listening leads to understanding. And when we understand others we’ll treat them for who they truly are – people created by and in the image of God.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is the fifth of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The opposite of this habit is simply not listening to others. And not listening to others is the third of seven behaviors that often causes a person to lose their job at organizations like SpringHill.
Now not listening to others usually takes on one of two different forms.
The first is when a person does all the talking (because if you know everything there is to know then you assume everyone else will want to hear what you have to say). Doing all the talking and assuming that others want to know what you think is the epitome of self-centeredness and the opposite of being other-focused.
The second form of not listening is simply not asking questions or taking the initiative to seek out what others know or have to say. Real listening, listening that actively seeks to understand another person requires asking good and meaningful questions. Asking questions also keeps us humble and from slipping out of reality and into self-delusion.
Think about it, have you ever had a conversation or a relationship with someone where they did all the talking or never asked your thoughts or sought to get to know you? For me the message is the other person doesn’t believe I have anything of value to contribute. Or even worst, I begin to wonder if I have any value personally in their eyes. Either way, not listening to others slowly but surely erodes a relationship, and wearing out a relationship will always lead to wearing out one’s welcome in an organization.
For over twenty years Michael Perry has made it his mission to bring young people closer to Christ through his Bible study publications, his capacity as the President and CEO of SpringHill, and his recent book, Experience = Everything. Over the last fifty years, SpringHill has changed over half a million lives—proving that it is more than just camp, or a place, SpringHill is a transformative experience.