It’s Time to Listen

It's time to listen


I recently had a client who’d been trying to get a promotion for years, regularly relaying his accomplishments to his boss, but to no avail. After a few sessions, I uncovered that his boss often disagreed with his approach to getting things done. Both felt disappointed in the other, and both were needing greater support and acknowledgement.

The systems we're a part of—whether our businesses, our governments, or our families—are unwittingly designed to separate us from others. You and me. She and he. Them and us. Even the system of our language constantly reinforces our differences.

But when we become so preoccupied with separating self and other, we fail to recognise the most basic fact of the world we live in: we're all in this together.

Yes, we are all different people. But we all have the same needs.

Needs are universal. Security, competence, balance, freedom—these are things we all want more of in our lives, regardless of colour, country or creed. All that varies is the extent to which these needs of ours are being met.

As UX professionals, our purpose is to facilitate understanding of people’s unmet needs. Yet many of us have a tendency to want to fix things, and become attached to our ideas of how it should be done.

Recent events around the world have caused many of us to raise our voices more than ever. We feel stronger in our convictions and are determined to stop the progress of those who stand against us.

But even more productive than learning to speak up is learning to listen. Most of us listen with the intent to respond. This holiday season, I invite you to listen with the intent to agree.

To be clear, listening with the intent to agree doesn't mean obeying orders or acting against your values. It means listening with the objective to accept what the other person says as being true for them. It may not be true or right or good for you, but it is their truth, and it deserves to be honoured and respected just the same as yours.

Rather than attaching to the words used, making interpretations and judgments about their value, listen for what lives underneath.

What is this person feeling? What are they needing? What are they doing in an attempt to get those needs met? And how well are those strategies working?

And above all, there is one person who deserves your deep listening more than anyone else: you. When was the last time you asked yourself, What am I feeling? What am I needing? What am I doing in an attempt to get those needs met? And how well are those strategies working?

If you really want to make things better, start with yourself.

That’s what my client did. He listened to his own needs, he listened to his boss’s needs; and with a simple shift in strategy, they both got what they wanted.

Whitney Hess

Whitney Hess

Whitney Hess shows creative leaders how to use empathy to get results. Her life's mission is to put humanity back into business.

Whitney writes on her blog Pleasure & Pain, co-hosts the podcast Designing Yourself, and speaks at conferences and corporations worldwide. She holds a Master of Human-Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon University, and became a Certified Integral Coach through New Ventures West in 2014. In 2015, she earned her Professional Certified Coach credentials from the International Coach Federation.

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