“What! You have to work late again?” My wife growled.
“What’s the big deal, you know I have to get this project done and this will let me be home on the weekend?” I pleaded.
“Fine, whatever, but don’t expect dinner,” she said.
“I feel like we always have this argument, why can’t you understand that sometimes I have to put in a few extra hours?” I questioned.
Finally, she said, “I am really struggling, and it’s like I am raising these kids on my own. You are never there to support me.”
That is more or less a conversation that my wife and I had a number of years ago. We had four children at the time and I was working a ton of hours. At first, she was understanding, but as the hours piled up she would get more and more frustrated, which in turn annoyed me a great deal. I mean I was trying to support our family.
What I never took the time to do though, was really listen to her. I mean really pay attention to her with my eyes, ears, mind and heart. I didn’t try to put myself in her shoes and see how hard it was for her. I had no idea that I left her feeling so alone or that the kids were really going through some issues.
Her statement above was the first time that she was able to shock me into really listening. To get out of my own selfish point of view and start to see through her eyes. That conversation led to me eventually taking another job with less hours, and it led to a lot of emotional work for my family. I just thank God that I listened before it was too late.
While the stakes might not be as high, putting listening first in business contexts can be incredibly powerful. I recently had Michael Coles the founder of the Great American Cookie Company as well as CEO of Caribou Coffee on the Art of Communication Podcast and he told me the story of how he learned one of the most important lessons of his career as a young teenager working in a Florida clothing store. After seeing his boss and mentor communicate masterfully with his customers time and time again he asked him what the secret was.
His answer… “The best way to communicate is to listen.”
That certainly proved true for Michael who used that lesson to drive incredible success throughout his career at the highest levels of business. Its proven true for me as well. I recently closed the biggest deal in my practice’s history and I am convinced that the point when I won that relationship was when I flew there in person and spent half a day listening to their strategies, goals, challenges and plans.
So, the next time you want to make a sale, convince your boss, or better understand your wife remember that the best way to communicate is to listen.
You can hear a wealth of other leadership lessons from Michael by checking out our interview here: Michal Coles The Art of Communication Interview. You can also dig into his fascinating book about his journey: Time to Get Tough: How Cookies, Coffee, and a Crash Led to Success in Business and Life.