Moving the Needle

I grew up in Ferguson, Missouri.

Although Barry-Wehmiller is now a global company, one of its early headquarters was in the City of St. Louis on North Florissant, close to Ferguson. Our corporate office is now located in Clayton, MO, blocks away from the St. Louis County courthouse and police department. If you’ve been paying attention to the nonstop media coverage of what has been happening in the St. Louis area over the last couple of days, these locations will sound very familiar to you. It’s difficult not to be deeply troubled by what is happening in the community which has played an important role in my life.

While the issues at hand run deep and obviously cannot be solved though a blog post, I wonder if we might move the needle a little through something I talk a great deal about in this blog and a practice we embrace daily throughout Barry-Wehmiller: the importance of listening.

I have often said that listening is the most important thing a leader can do. But I believe it transcends leadership. Listening is the most important thing we, as humans, can do for one another. It shows empathy, it shows you care, and most importantly, it shows the person you are listening to that they matter. When done with the intent to not merely get the information you need but rather to meet the needs of the other person and hear how he or she is feeling, listening allows us to connect and better understand each other.

According to William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation and one of the world’s leading experts on negotiation and mediation, “When you listen to someone, it’s the most profound act of human respect.”

In 2008, we began teaching our team members how to improve their listening skills through a Barry-Wehmiller University course on communication. What we didn’t anticipate was the profound difference that improved listening made not just at work, but in their lives as a whole.

As our professors teach in the class:
“One of the most powerful dynamics of human interaction is when people feel as though they have been heard. Really heard. Hearing someone does not mean we necessarily have to agree with what has been said. Rather, it is working to understand where people are coming from and then going to a new place together.”

Bill Ury also says that we are given two ears and one mouth for a reason: to listen twice as much as we talk. How can we build trust and show respect and understand one another unless we know what the other person is thinking and feeling? The way we actualize caring is through empathetic listening. I wonder how our dialogue with one another could be improved, not only in St. Louis or Ferguson but throughout the globe, if we were to approach every conversation in this way.

Truly Human Leadership is found throughout Barry-Wehmiller Companies, where Bob Chapman is Chairman and CEO. A $2+ billion global capital equipment and engineering consulting firm, Barry-Wehmiller’s 11,000 team members are united around a common belief: we can use the power of business to build a better world. Chapman explores that idea in his Wall Street Journal best-selling book, Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring For Your People Like Family, available from Penguin Random House.

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5 Comments on "Moving the Needle"

2 years 9 months ago

I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. It is with great pain and sorrow as a mother and a woman of Color that I watch not only the hurts and mistreatments of people in Ferguson but in many other places across this country and around the world. At the same time I have personally and professionally experienced and witnessed great love and respect as people of all races take a stand for love and peace.
For thirty-eight years of partnering with leaders in business corporations and communities, I’ve seen that there are many creative answers to resolving difficult problems. Yet the simple, powerful truth is that any lasting resolution, a coming together of people across differences and similarities, only can begin when we open our minds and hearts to listen, truly listen to others and to listen deep within ourselves. I know that we have the individual capacity to truly listen. Do we have the collective will to acknowledge our history, our present divides and build understanding amongst each other so that we can create healthy relationships and a healthy country?
I grew up in Missouri, the “show me” state. In my life time, I have been shown disdain and invisibility, and I have been acknowledged with great love and respect. It is my commitment to not wait for others to “show me” dignity but rather to lead with dignity toward others by listening. I have found that listening to others is a great gift; a gift that we are all worthy of receiving.
Thank you Bob Chapman, an exemplar to other white corporate leaders and all of us, for stepping forward with love and courage to listen, truly listen to others . Together we can create a world that works for all of us, together.

Lora Morse
2 years 9 months ago

Unfortunately, defending one’s position and truly listening are mutually exclusive. New insight comes through revelation. Being open to revelation requires humility. Agree with Jim Mansfield. . . .prayer. . . . .and continuing to attempt to have an impact one person at a time. Thank you for your website and the work that you do.

Dan Aude
2 years 9 months ago

Thanks for an opportunity to comment on this topic. I believe it is not just Ferguson MO that is under stress between citizens and law enforcement. Large, medium, and small communities exhibit the very same troubling relationship, here in Green Bay, WI we have seen a few officers cross the line and fight with a bystander as if it were a bar brawl during an unrelated police inquiry of a citizen.
Throughout this event in Ferguson I have learned there are rules police are being taught about protecting themselves, that when violated warrant lethal for. I wonder if listening skills are part of that training?
I have learned that African American families have “the talk” about public behavior in the presence of law enforcement. Imagine that, what country do we live?
There are many ingredients that may cause law enforcement to be insecure of their safety in their daily workplace, as there are reason and experiences for the community to fear law enforcement, and not trust the justice system.
Something that concerns me very much came from a question that was asked of Officer Wilson in an interview; would it have mattered if Mike Brown was white? The officer responded it would not have mattered and would have taken the same actions. Police are equipped with an array of tactical weapons; my concern is the use of lethal enforcement as a first choice.
Regardless of race, each and every one of us has a stake in movement. Without change we are just one law enforcement interaction away from the same lethal situation.

David Bragg
2 years 9 months ago

“One of the most powerful dynamics of human interaction is when people feel as though they have been heard. Really heard. Hearing someone does not mean we necessarily have to agree with what has been said. Rather, it is working to understand where people are coming from and then going to a new place together.”

A very interesting concept in light of an ever increasing public consent to believe every whim of doctrine. It seems that the only medicine for this is to…listen. Trying, through listening, to understand the “where” one is coming from and intending to go.

“How can we build trust and show respect and understand one another unless we know what the other person is thinking and feeling? The way we actualize caring is through empathetic listening”

What l have learned through this teaching has surely given me an advantage to create character which builds ‘people of culture’ to help this Firm have a new generation of Professionals that truly care about the lives of the people they touch in their daily activities. What a greatness we can see built in people when we ’empathetically listen.”

Jim Mansfield
2 years 9 months ago

I was born and raised in the south, which unfortunately, even today, is fraught with racism. As bad as I hate to say it, after seeing so much unrest, I feel that the bulk of the Ferguson Trials and Tribulations are also based on racism and the perceived need of segregating the power of the police department and the needs of the people of Ferguson. I have been honored and truly blessed to have led many of my own family and personal friends and acquaintances away from racism and begin to embrace each other as simply “Human Beings” or better described as “Human’s Living” for the better good of Humanity. I also believe that the above referenced “Segregation” has stopped the “Communication” between the people of Ferguson, the county and city Government and the “Police Department.” While I appreciate the efforts of the Police Department’s 3 months of efforts in seeking a way to bridge the gab, it’s quite obvious it’s failed. So, now they know what not to do or repeat. Time for a new approach.

The Police Department and the County / City Government are there to serve the people of Ferguson. The fact that less than 25% of the Black community didn’t even exercise their constitutional rite to vote concerns me. They have the constitutional right and the power to pull together and force change by electing knowledgeable, responsible, and compassionate leaders to the offices that are supposed to serve them. Leaders that will listen more than they talk. Leaders that foster a community of awareness, trust, understanding and again, compassion. At the end of the day, we have to change our people or else we need to change our people.

I will continue to pray for all my brothers and sisters in Ferguson, MO, our County, City and Federal Government and law enforcement throughout the world to simply take a moment of pause and “Communicate” with each other. Open your heart, minds and hands to promote and bring out the best in each other. It’s there, we just have to listen for it.