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Employee Engagement – Three Obstacles Between Hearing and Understanding


Today, we invited Mike Henry Sr., Founder of the Lead Change Group to write about employee engagement.


We think we hear.

A few weeks ago, in a brief talk she gave about diversity, Teri Aulph said, “Diversity is hearing every voice.”

To be clear, I’m confident Teri meant diversity is attempting to understand and appreciate every voice and every person.

However, there’s a difference between hearing and understanding.  We hear things every day.  Certain things we hear require little or no reaction.  Media drones in the background… “World coming to an end! Details/ at 11.”  Or “Could your sofa be killing you? Tune in tonight for a special report.”  At work, we check email during meetings, certain we’ll catch anything important.  Or we work on projects during conference calls.  We hear so much that we often stop hearing.

Ideas require understanding. People need appreciation.  Would you like your people to be truly energized and truly engaged in their jobs?  The key is to transition from hearing to appreciating and understanding their ideas, motives, strengths and passions.

Do you get caught on one of these 3 obstacles between hearing and understanding?

Imprecision: Sometimes we aren’t careful what we say or how we understand what we hear.  We fail to consider the meaning others might have for words that we commonly use.  Our default meaning for a word may not be precisely what the other either sent or received.  Understanding begins when we become aware of the possibility of a gap in each person’s meaning.  To overcome imprecision, we must invest effort and time questioning and seeking a common understanding.

Prejudice: Many times our own thought patterns rule out certain meanings.  Recently a manager created a plan to lead his team a new way.  I heard his boss resist this idea based on a misunderstanding of the final outcome.  However the manager tried to explain the outcome, the executive insisted the manager’s plan wouldn’t work.  Rather than let the manager try, the prejudice shut down the whole conversation and that manager’s energy and excitement about the organization suffered a blow.  To overcome prejudice, we must be willing to “go the extra mile” to understand the other person’s perspective.

Under-appreciation: Most employee ideas die for lack of support. It isn’t that the idea was bad, but leaders would not commit the resources to succeed.  A leader’s attention span exposes their true appreciation for the ideas and energy of their reports.  You will focus on what you value.  Which do you value more, the ideas of your people, your peers, your competitors, or people you look up to? Many executives under-appreciate the familiar, like their direct reports and long-time employees and then under-resource them as a result.  Do you over-appreciate consultants, outsiders, or your own ideas and under-appreciate those of the people you oversee?  If you feel like they “always need your help” or they “never seem to hit home runs” it may be that you’re not giving them the resources they need.  Where is your focus and your energy?  Are the ideas, energy and hearts of your people your greatest asset?  Or do you simply give that lip service.

Respect overcomes these obstacles to appreciation and understanding.  Respect assigns value to the other person’s perspective and commits the resources necessary to properly evaluate and decide.  Respect and appreciation help us hear every voice, and seek true understanding of every perspective.  We don’t have to act on every idea, but if we fail to appreciate our people and their perspectives, we’ll shut off the flow of ideas.  When we learn to use respect to help us appreciate and understand our people, their talent and engagement will grow and all the ideas will improve.

Thank you Mike Henry, Sr. for this blog post! Click here for their book titled, The Character-Based Leader: Instigating a Leadership Revolution…One Person at a Time.*  


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