Infection Prevention and Control Manager Aurora Wilson has worked at Providence for eight years. In the spring of 2016, she completed phase two of the Leadership Development Institute, a three-phase program developed and launched in-house.
The final assignment for participants in phase two is the composition of a letter answering the question, “I graduated from phase two with honours because…”
The letter must be dated one year later and describe, “Who will you have become?” It should tell the story of what you have done from now until one year ahead that is in line with your extraordinary performance in this course; reveal your attitudes, beliefs and worldview that are leading others and moving you and Providence from “me-to-we.”
Aurora chose to compare how she reacted to a difficult situation her daughter had experienced with how she would have responded having completed phase two of the leadership course with honours.
“I think the story is a contrast of me – then and now,” Aurora noted. “I have learned to suspend myself and fully immerse on what the other person is saying, feeling, thinking; truly appreciate where they are coming from, and value the person they are, at that moment.”
Aurora emphasized, “The now is a work in progress that feeds into my continued desire and commitment to be a better person, a better leader.”
“The two courses have been life changing for me, personally and professionally, and I will carry it with me for the rest of my life.”
Below is the letter she wrote:
April 19, 2017
I remember the time my daughter came to me on evening, her shoulders drooped, her head down. She puled a chair across from me, sat down, and share with me a difficult situation she was going through.
Stunned, I put my arms around her and said, “Oh, no. That’s too bad. I’m sorry.”
Then I turned away and got to work, setting out to solve the problem for her.
Of course, I showed my empathy and I reached out by putting my arms around her, didn’t I? Yet, in retrospect, did I?
Did I connect with her, feel her agony and listen to her? Was I curious about what the circumstances meant to her, the depth of how it affected her, what hopes she had for the future, her fears and disappointments, and how she wanted me to help her? Did I?
Instead, I hastily tried to solve the problem for her.
You see, I was uncomfortable myself; it was distressing to listen to someone in emotional anguish. I didn’t know how to react, let alone what to say. And so I did what made sense to me, at least in a pragmatic way – I told her what to do. At that moment, unconsciously, I felt I did the right thing - to rescue her and make her feel better, or so I thought.
“The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand; we listen to reply.”
This quote was shared in one of the sessions in the Leading Others course. How true. I can recall how, while talking to someone, despite looking alert and attentive, I got lost in the conversation because I was formulating in my mind how I could reply so I could at least sound intelligent and impressive.
I asked questions and hoped that it was contextually appropriate. I laughed along even though sometimes I didn’t know why. I was listening at level one, or perhaps I was not even listening at all.
By learning more about the levels of listening I learned to listen at level two, which gave me the insight that for me to understand the other person meant I had to be engaged beyond physical presence, in heart and soul.
There was a lot heard by observing body language, facial expressions, intonations, and listening to what the other person was conveying without a single word.
Then I learned to further listen at level three. This helped me distinguish intuitively how “we” (myself and others together) and our interaction impact our social environment.
I felt vulnerable at times, but the awareness and insights from the course fortified my personal and professional commitment to create a respectful, honest and safe social climate, wherever I happen to be and with whomever I happen to be.
In order to listen to understand, I learned to become more positive while listening to others, which meant seeing the value and strengths of the other person. This also meant that I had to set aside my saboteur of a stickler. I learned to become curious, not to put the other person on the spot but to become truly interested, to discover and appreciate the other person.
I realized that by starting the questions with “what…” or “how…” it kept the conversation flowing, made the other person feel important, and kept us engaged, literally. Furthermore, listening to understand meant that I had to be human, to be non-judgmental, to set aside my hyper-rational mindset that tended to disrupt my ability to communicate effectively and humanely.
Looking back to the incident at the beginning of this letter, I wish I had known what I learned through the Leading Others course because I would have responded differently. Fortunately, there were many opportunities that permitted me to practice what I learned, that is, to listen - truly listen - not solely with my head, but with my heart and soul.