Less is More (Listening to Build Trust)

 In Pei Blog

Every dialogue can be either a competition, or a bond of connection with another person. 

I’m sometimes shocked at how little I have to actually do, in order to make an impact on another person.  When I coach leaders, I often find myself:

  • Repeating back to them what I heard them say
  • Simply acknowledging the challenge or value of what they’re doing

Over half the time, I find that these things are what leaders seem to need; they mainly want someone to help them feel heard and known.  It sounds so easy to do, and yet more often than not we’re tempted to “do too much” — to prioritize content over relationship.

In the last two posts, we discussed how great listeners observe more, and understand deeply.  In this post, we’re going to add one component:

Great listening helps us to build trust.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “People don’t care what you know, until they know you care.”  I have found this to be quite true.  I could share the greatest wisdom on the face of the earth with someone, but if they don’t trust me it will likely go in one ear, and out the other.  On the other hand, if I’ve built trust with a friend or coworker, they’ll be far more open to what I might have to offer or contribute.

Building trust takes time, of course, but being a great listener can kick-start the process.  One reason is that many people are used to a competitive environment, where everyone is fighting for space – to get a word in, or to make their presence known, or compete for a spot at the table.  When we don’t use our energy to compete for space, but instead to create an open space for someone else to have their voice or contribution heard and known, it fills a deep need.  It differentiates us as leaders from the pack, who are fighting amongst themselves.

So often, less is more.

One of the best quotes about listening that I keep coming back to is from contemplative author Henri Nouwen, who writes:

“To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept.

Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.”

I love the way Nouwen ties listening with relationship building, because ultimately every dialogue is relational; it is a connection between two human beings!  And when we’re able to listen well, it creates a bond of trust that can be built upon.

So what are some ways we can listen to build trust?  Here are a few examples I’ve found helpful:

  • Acknowledge: “That sounds like a huge effort you put in.”

  • Empathize: “I’m sorry to hear how challenging things have been.”

  • Encourage: “I admire your hard work and perseverance.”

  • Relate: “I struggle with that, too.”

  • Ask more: “What have you been learning through that experience? I’d love to hear more.”

Try some of these this week, and let me know how it goes!  Thank you for reading, and let me know if you have any other ideas or suggestions.

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