The Only Reason People Listen

“Why are you here and why should I waste my time listening to you?”

This is a question I’ve been asked more times than I can count. With Coal Miners, Software developers, CEO’s, Entrepreneurs, and by a group of thirty truck drivers forced to be with me over a weekend for a 16 hour training. Which, by the way, was one of the most intense.

I’ve spent the better part of my professional life delivering either professional or personal development programs. From my times in juvenile corrections to working with some very high level consulting companies like Neuroleadership and Sentis, to include Leadership Development, Safety Psychology, Positive Peer Culture, Resilience, Diversity and Inclusion, and a myriad of others.

What I’ve learned in this time, is that the reasons we think people listen to a leader, a teacher, a facilitator, or a speaker on any stage, is almost always different than what we initially think it is. In fact, the primary reason people listen, is often overlooked by even some of the best speakers, leaders, and teachers. Leaving them wondering why their message, once delivered, never really stuck.

It’s easy to believe this question is about our background and abilities. But, every group’s experience is going to be different from ours. And, if we rely on education or experience to answer the question, someone will inevitably point out where we fall short.

We can believe the question is about the quality of the content. But, I’ve seen some of the most researched and thought out programs that designed to help everything from personal change to entire cultural change completely fail to create any change. And, very likely, so have the people asking us that question.

I’ve watched some of the best facilitators turn a tough, angry, and completely disengaged group into the most positive and committed group of people in an organization in just a couple of days. I’ve also seen some of the most qualified speakers take a group that was already engaged and leave them worse than they were before the presentation.

What separates these two experiences is not content, expertise, quality of speaker, or even their training. Although all of that stuff certainly matters.

The biggest differentiator comes down to one factor. Belief in the potential of the people the leader, teacher, trainer or speaker has in the people he or she is trying to help.

Belief in someone is something we can’t fake. Other people can sniff out lack of belief like bloodhounds on a hunt.

We can have all the experience, but if we don’t believe they can do it on their own, they’ll prove us right. Our content can be great, but if we don’t truly believe in their ability to grasp it and make it their own, they won’t. And, even if we think we believe in them, if our actions don’t match up with that belief, even the best leaders will lose the group before they even start.

Believing in the potential of others seems simple, but putting it into practice is something even the most qualified practitioners have to work on daily.

I’ve never actually answered the question “why should I listen to you?” with “because I believe in you.” But, if I want to be effective. I know it is the only answer that matters.

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