Active Listening – When Shutting Up Matters

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringThere is a lot that the business world can learn from NGOs in general. And vice versa, I am sure. We all know that. But if there is anything that I have learned just recently that certainly has stroked a chord with me in terms of what would be rather critical and paramount for enterprises (whatever the size) to, finally, understand and embrace in equal terms, is to stop being both rather patronising or paternalistic and, instead, just shut up and listen. After all,  “[…] In economic development, if people do not wish to be helped, leave them alone”. Why? Well, it’s all about respect, really. 

Servant Leadership can take you, and will take you!, very far, if done correctly; that is, when it’s done around the passion of local people (i.e. employees, knowledge workers, citizens and what not), who have got a dream to become a better person. That’s why empowerment, as a concept, in the business world, is just such a fully loaded word and so very broken, as my good friend, John Wenger, wrote, not long ago, over at “Why you can’t empower someone”.

What we can do, instead, is go ahead and help people find the knowledge, so that they are capable of pursuing their own goals and outcomes based on their own passion(s). That’s why enablement trumps empowerment time and time again. After all, it’s pretty simple I suppose, if you look into it. You just can’t empower people per se and get away with it, as if nothing happened. Eventually, and perhaps without realising about it too much, that’s when you become rather patronising and paternalistic altogether showcasing you know way better than everyone else, when that may well not be the case, and therefore you think you can still retain that position of power, status, decision making and entitlement, and, therefore, respect, even if you never had it in the first place, because you never show it for others for that matter. See? There is a lot to learn from NGOs. At least, from some of them

What we can do, essentially, is to enable them (knowledge workers) to empower themselves to be the leaders of change they want to become. And become yourself, in the process, a facilitator, understanding that they won’t succeed alone and that they would need to find partners to be able to strike for the magic. And you are their partner.

Apparently, “planning is the kiss of death for entrepreneurship”, so what you would want to do, instead, is perhaps invest in the community aspect of getting work done together, as partnerships driven by openness, transparency, collaboration, knowledge sharing, respect, passion, common purpose, etc. etc. away from the traditional hierarchical silos, where applicable, and start working together towards that notion that work happens around communities and networks versus the traditional top down (now obsolete) hierarchy and that

“The future of every community lies in capturing the passion, energy and imagination of its own people”. 

Again, there is a whole lot the business world (And everyone else, in general, for that matter) can learn from NGOs and earlier on this week I myself had that very same wonderful opportunity while bumping into this particular TEDx Talk by Dr. Ernesto Sirolli (Special thanks to Roxanna Samii for sharing it along!) under a rather evocative and suggestive title (“Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!”), where he comes to present with lots of charisma, humour, wit and plenty of drama, an overall incredibly passionate speech about the advantages of working in small local groups or local communities for maximum impact, through facilitators who help inspire entrepreneurship where it matters, as partnerships with different people who may well have different skills and talents, but with one key aspect in mind: that is, instead of you or me or us doing the talk we just keep quiet, shut up, and listen to those folks who we may need to help, eventually, find the knowledge as well as the resources they need for them to pursue their own passion(s) further along: 

 

There is a whole lot more than I could say and write about regarding this absolutely stunning presentation by Ernesto (roughly about 17 minutes long and very much worth while watching altogether!) with lots more to learn and reflect upon, but there is one thing that has stuck with me big time so far and that I am surely going to embark on from here onwards: you know what they say about doing plenty of research beforehand about your potential clients or new prospects, specially, with the emergence of all of these digital tools, so that you are as well prepared as you should, right? Well, to me, while I continue to do that, I am now also scheduling some time off to watch Ernesto’s presentation to remind myself, over and over again, how there is a great chance for me to help those potential customers succeed big time by just shutting up and listening with intent first to what they would want to do, what business problems to address or what new business opportunities to explore, than just myself doing all the talk, thinking that I know better than them.

The big ah-ha moment for me, after watching this talk, is that I don’t. I am just a helper. An enabler. A people enabler. One of the many out there who can, hopefully, help find the knowledge you may need through relevant networks and communities with a specific single mission and common purpose: to help you change your world with not only the knowledge and resources you may have available, but also through the communities and networks we are all part of. 

After all, you are your (social) networks, and the networks are you, so we better start paying more attention to them, keep quiet and listen both actively and carefully. Remember, “Hierarchies are only as smart as the smartest gatekeepers. Networks are smarter than the sum of their nodes”. 

 

Written by Luis Suarez

Chief Emergineer and People Enabler. A well seasoned Social / Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience on knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business; and has been living, since February 2008, a (work) life without email challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and overall smart work. He can also be contacted over in Twitter at @elsua or Google Plus.

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