Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.
Stephen R. Covey
I heard this quote a couple of weeks ago and for the first time I understood. I have carried it around as a lens for myself for the last few weeks and it has changed several conversations for me – for the better.
Try an experiment ~ write it on a post-it, on the top of some meeting agendas, or any other way to remind you of it as you interact with others. Let me know what you notice: email@example.com
Like many people, in the next month I plan to tackle the biography of Steve Jobs. I like reading about interesting people, especially leaders. While we learn by doing, slowing down to learn here and there is one of the key things leaders can do to raise their own performance. But do not forget the living biographies that are around us. Here is my story of pausing to hear a living biography.
Jeno Paulucci died Nov.25th at the age of 93.
I met Jeno in 1999 when I went to Duluth, MN to run Grandma’s Marathon. When I planned the trip I thought of Jeno because my Grandfather had talked about him years before. The family story was that my grandfather, as the dean of Hibbing Junior College, had convinced Jeno to stay in college. He went on to become the second most famous person to come out of Hibbing, Minnesota (behind Bob Dylan – aka: Bobby Zimmerman). The highlights of his business career:
Founded Chun King – sold it to RJ Reynolds for $62M
Founded Jeno’s Pizza Rolls – sold to Pillsbury for $135M (rebranded to Totino’s)
I wrote Jeno a note, and he answered with a handwritten note to accept my offer, so I setup a meeting. He met a friend and I for a couple hours and we talked about his memories of my grandfather, why he started his business, his current business (Michelina’s pasta), and life stuff. The line I most remember was him sharing a decision point he had as to whether to sell Michelina’s in his 70’s or keep it. He went home and told his wife that he thought he should sell it so he could spend more time with her. Her response was “Jeno, if the only reason you are selling it is to spend more time with me then keep it. Having you around every day, all the time, will drive me crazy.” He decided to keep the business. 🙂
The other thing that struck me about Jeno was that his office was very plain and he was very normal. He knew my grandfather and made time for me to just talk, and the conversation was very easy. When I met him at the end of the marathon he ordered me to go get my jacket so I would not get cold. He was kind of bossy. 🙂
Often times the holidays puts us in rooms with people that we do not know that well, and much of the time is spent figuring out how to escape. When I see a room full of people I see it as a kind of a library of biographies. Storied that can be heard by asking things like: Where they lived? Where they grew up / went to college / worked? What were some highlights from past jobs / holidays / vacations? Who is the most famous person they have ever met?
I never talked to Jeno after 1999. The one thing about his obituary that caught me eye was the piece about his wife. She died 5 days before Jeno. Apparently she must have been pretty important to him. Go figure. 🙂
Friday’s are great days. As you look out in your office everyone has expectations of the coming two days that will tell you a lot about where they are in life. Here are a few messages you might hear and what they actually are telling you that is significant to know about them:
“It will be great to get out of here” says – I have worked hard all week and it is a nice break.
“It will be great to get out of here” says – This place is killing me and any time away is like gold.
“I can’t wait to spend time with my family” says – I love work, but family time is important to me.
“It will be quiet, the kids are with my ex” – It will be alone time to either do what I love or miss being connected with the significant people in my life.
“Oh a little of this and a little of that. What are you doing?” says – Usually you don’t care what I do outside of work. So why ask now?
“Nothing” says – Usually you don’t care about what I do outside of work. So why ask now?
So what do you hear when you ask? If what they are actually saying is unclear, why not ask another question to allow them to share a little more.
Listening on Friday does commit you to ask again on Monday to see how the weekend turned out. Eventually the last #5 and #6 will go away.
What does your answer tell me about where you are? Is it the same place you want to be next Friday? Happy Friday.