Who Do You Listen To?


Businessman in lonelinessWhen it comes to change, there is rarely a shortage of opinions, insights, ideas and suggestions that others have to offer. Who do you listen to?

Some people surround themselves with those who are always very supportive. If they have any question, any uncertainty, they are quickly assured that they are on the right track.

This can work well when in familiar and/or stable territory. it keeps us from wandering off course, investing our time, energy, and other resources in something that will distract us from our purpose.

It serves us less well, however, when venturing into unknown waters. Even those who might see danger ahead, or are able to provide us with cautionary advice, hesitate to do so. The message we have conveyed–intentional or not–is “don’t rock the boat.”

Others take counsel in a circle of friends or co-workers whose values and experiences are very much aligned with their own. In this environment, the dialogue is often more open and candid. People will call it as they see it.

While this is a better approach to seeking advice during change, it still carries a high risk. If everyone around you is looking at the world through the same lens as you are, it is rare that they will see things in a significantly different way. Once again, in uncharted territory this can be dangerous.

Several years ago, Daryl Conner and Linda Hoopes of Conner Partners extensively researched personal resilience. (Linda continues this research today through her organization, Resilience Alliance.). They identified a series of characteristics that distinguish more and less highly resilient people. One of those characteristics is “flexible social.” People who score high in this characteristic are likely to go outside their familiar circle of advisers when facing unfamiliar circumstances. They want to bring additional frames of reference to bear, to gain insights and understanding that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

If you take this approach, you need to be open to challenge. You have to suspend your judgment, and to consider alternative perspectives. You also have to have trust in those you are listening to. If what they have to offer is going to do more than “go in one ear and out the other,” you need to believe that they have credibility regarding whatever the topic may be.

My own approach is, perhaps, a bit of a hybrid. I have a small circle of people whom I refer to as my “heart friends.” These are the friends that will be there for me no matter what, 24/7, 365 days a year, without hesitation or question. When facing change, I will often consult one or more of them, to seek their insights and counsel.

At the same time, I don’t hesitate to go outside my comfort zone, to seek out others who might be knowledgeable in ways that will help to inform me. When I founded an AIDS nonprofit in the mid-90s I established an advisory board that included not only people in various AIDS-related fields. There was a futurist, who could help us think through alternative futures for a world living with AIDS. We had an IT professional who could offer guidance on the use of online bulletin boards to build community. Other advisers included a Catholic college president, a systems theory expert, and a consulting psychologist. Each brought a unique frame of reference as to how we might change America’s response to AIDS.

At the end of the day, listen to yourself.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Steve Jobs

Who do you listen to when approaching change? Comments and discussion are welcomed.

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