When I first went to work with John and Henry in 1997, I was excited to be doing work I believed was meaningful and significant. I loved their mission; helping people heal, thrive and grow. It was rewarding to work for two men that I admired and respected. Additionally, I felt my past work experience and skills made me a good fit for this job. Whenever I was asked in an interview to list my top 3 strengths, without hesitation, I responded, “I am a good problem solver, I am a good communicator and I have good people skills. Yes, that’s me!” I knew I was in the right place, doing what I was meant to do. After all, I had the right stuff, didn’t I?
Shortly after moving into the role of Executive Director, John took me aside one day and said, “Maureen, we have a problem and I need your help.” A Problem! I was excited. I eat problems for breakfast. “What is it? How can I help?” John responded, “well, the problem is how you are interacting with the staff. People are complaining about you!”
Huh? That’s not what I expected. I immediately thought, how could that be? I mean, I have good people skills, right? But, I said, “okay tell me more…” So, he did. “Henry and I would like to help you.” Oh great, Henry is aware of this too. Grrrr! “Alright, what can I do?” I really wanted to know, though secretly I thought these people were a bunch of whiney babies. I kept that thought to myself.
“Well, it seems the staff doesn’t feel you are listening to their concerns.” Again, I was surprised. I am a good communicator and that means I listen, don’t I? How could this be? As John pressed on, he was very kind.
I said, “Ok, thanks for letting me know, I will do better at listening.” Thinking that was all I needed, a reminder should do it!
However, John went on, “Well, we have an idea that we think will help you.” Even though I wasn’t thoroughly convinced, I knew that if one person tells you that you are a horse, you should tell them to get back on their medication. But, if 3 people tell you that you are a horse, it’s time to buy a saddle. Since this was coming from John and Henry, I was open to finding out if I had something to learn. Perhaps it was time to buy a saddle. Hmmm.
John and Henry gave me 2 “listening” assignments. I complied and it highlighted that I really wasn’t a good listener after all. That gave me pause. So, my idea of myself wasn’t really accurate? In an effort to improve my listening skills, I started repeating back what I thought I heard by saying “this is what I hear you saying, is that correct?” Often, it wasn’t correct. Dang, this is harder than it looks. However, after doing this repeatedly, I really began listening in a different way.
John and Henry’s help was essential to seeing myself more clearly. Although it was uncomfortable to face this flaw about myself, ultimately it was for my own good. By addressing a problem within myself, I was changing peoples’ experience of me. As I began to improve, so did my relationships. I am grateful they cared enough to tell me the truth in a way I could hear it.
I wonder if you have someone in your life to ask about their experience of you. Tell them you want to grow and improve so you want the truth, even if they think it may hurt your feelings. If you have more than a couple people to check with, you will likely find a theme.
There is always room for improvement. As long as we don’t get defensive or reject the information, we can learn something important. I wasn’t aware that I wasn’t a good listener, but I am sure this was how I had been for a considerable length of time. If anyone had tried to tell me before, I hadn’t heard them. Was it that I had gotten defensive and discounted the information? Was it “how” I was being told? I am not sure. I do know that most of us shut down when we feel criticized or blamed and then we discount feedback. Yet, being open to feedback is essential to our growth.
We don’t always see ourselves clearly. It’s easy to see the speck in someone’s eye and miss the beam in our own. (Matthew 7:3) We need others to help us see clearly and help us grow. Receiving helpful feedback turned out to be a gift to me. If you are brave enough to give it a try, I hope it is a gift for you too.