In my former career, I was a construction project manager responsible for managing a $20 million dollar project.
Obviously, the stakes were high and I had to make sure that all of my employees were focused on completing a quality project, on-time, on-budget, and without any injuries.
To accomplish this goal, I spent the first few hours of my day talking to employees. I knew that it was important for me to build relationships with the people who were working for me.
There were over 300 employees and I intended to talk to every single person. As you can imagine, I didn’t get to speak to everyone every day. But there was one employee who always managed to find me.
He was one of those guys who loved to complain about everything. Not only that, but he would also do things to provoke and aggravate me.
I always managed to maintain my composure, but he knew how to push my buttons. He was wise enough to never do anything that would cause me to fire him, but his behavior bordered on insubordination.
One morning, he approached me and demanded to see me in my office. At that point, I was fed up with him and decided to remove him from the premises.
“Meet me at 10 am,” I said.
I rushed back to my office and told my assistant to prepare the employee’s paperwork because I was about to fire him.
When the designated hour approached, the employee appeared in my doorway. I invited him inside and offered him a seat.
“I’d rather stand,” he said with his arms folded.
I reached around him, closed the door, and walked to the other side of my office. He crossed his arms and stared at me. I mirrored his posture. Our staring contest lasted at least 5 minutes because neither of us was willing to back down.
Finally, the employee lowered his head and started crying. I was shocked and I didn’t know what to do. Should I console him or should I just escort him to his car?
The employee continued crying and I offered him a seat again. This time he sat down. I handed him a box of Kleenex and he soon regained his composure.
He proceeded to tell me about some serious issues in his life he was addicted to drugs, his wife had left him, and he felt alone.
I listened to him for the next hour and offered to find him some help. Before he left my office, I grabbed his arm.
“Why did you decide to tell me these things?” I asked. He looked into my eyes, placed his hand on my shoulder, and said, “Because you’re the only person I can talk to.”
His response nearly floored me.
“I’m sorry, but I’m confused,” I said. “You agitate me every day. In fact, you go out of your way to start arguments with me.”
“You’re right,” he said. “But no matter what I do, you always hear me out. No one else takes the time to listen to me the way you do.”
And that was the root of his problem. All he ever wanted was to be heard. His life was falling apart and he craved human contact. We never know what’s going on in people’s lives.
People are hurting and they don’t know where to turn. You may be the only person who can help turn someone’s life around if you’re willing to listen.
Listening is a powerful leadership tool.