In Mark Goulston’s book, Just Listen, he explains that listening is like allowing people to exhale, emotionally and mentally.
“… Exhaling [emotionally or mentally] enables people to experience and express their feelings––like draining a wound––in a way that doesn’t attack others or themselves. It’s the only response that relaxes stressed-out individuals and opens their minds to solutions from other people. That, in turn, offers an opportunity to resolve the source of the stress and prevent it from recurring.
When you give a distressed person breathing room––a place and a space to exhale––you don’t just get the situation back to normal, you actually improve on it. That’s because, in addition to getting a person to calm down, you build a mental bridge between the person and yourself. And when you build that bridge, you can communicate across it.”
Many leaders don’t give their people “a place or a space to exhale.” So team members walk around all day “holding their breath,” emotionally or mentally. You know what it feels like to hold your breath physically. It’s not that big of a stretch to imagine the consequences of holding your breath emotionally. While people are holding their breaths, leaders go out and hire expensive consultants to assess, diagnose, and fix internal problems that could be solved better and faster by simply allowing their own people to exhale—to talk and have someone listen.
Experience has helped me realize I had sometimes missed this opportunity for tapping into the best source for innovation, energy, and creativity—my own staff. I could spend $5,000 on a hired consultant for a day, or I could spend $50 to take some of my team to lunch and ask them what we should change. Which option has the better return on investment (ROI)? Obviously, the $50 lunch. Yet I had more trouble justifying the $50 lunch bill to my superiors than that $5,000 consultant bill!