The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.Peter Drucker
When she walked into my office, she was clearly nervous. We had worked together for six months. In the next five minutes, she shared a very personal medical condition, how the treatment would take her out of work, and her concerns about her job and her health. There were tears.
I heard the words – and knew the next step was to leverage the policies we had in place to help all of our people get the same level of support and organizational compassion.
Somewhere in those five minutes, I heard some other unspoken messages:
- I want to be a mom more than anything
- I am scared
- I love this job
- I trust you to help me Scott, that is why I am sharing this
Within the unspoken words is the space where empathy happens, where we get to really understand what matters to people, and where the passions and fears exist that help us truly know someone.
The next time you have a conversation, listen for the unspoken messages. What do you notice? This is the real practice of honest listening, and it takes putting them first.
For the last 18 months I have been fortunate to be working with and leading a fabulous group of people to fill two open roles for pastors. While I have worked in the for-profit world doing this work before, it was a new experience doing this in a not-for-profit organization. I learned that when talking with a person called to a profession of service, their passion is infectious. It made the evenings go by quickly. Here are 4 lessons that can and should be applied across any effort, whether it is for-profit or not-for-profit:
- Everyone deserves a response: Responding to every inquiry with a timely response was a practice. Every letter from a candidate received a letter back. We also adopted a practice of providing a verbal response to every candidate we actually talked with, whether it was an actual interview or an exploratory phone call. It was not always an easy call, but we did it because it gave us a chance to offer encouragement and prayers. Remember, not-for-profit (especially church) leaders are not just pursuing a job, it is a calling. NO has the potential to hurt more, and they deserve much more than silence. I was surprised how many stories I heard of committees waiting several months to call back after an interview.
- Some “Just for them” Interviews: When people are pursuing a calling, the interviewing process is often more of a discernment journey. Many have left something else behind to pursue this career. It is important to see these candidates (new grad, 2nd career, etc.) as great people on an amazing journey, and giving them 30 minutes to have a conversation with you is part of the process of equipping them with greater clarity on what path is right for them. Make the interview more than your process, make it our process.
- It Still Needs to by Rigorous, without being Ruthless: This is a sentence I use when describing goals of the process in front of a candidate so they understand how important it is to thoroughly explore if this is the right role for them at this point in their journey AND to get them the information they need to make a personal decision about us. References, using personality assessments, multi-hour conversations, and maybe a personal appearance to demonstrate their skills / passions / beliefs are all part of it.
- Be willing to celebrate a NO: I remember the phone call vividly. Listening to a candidate we loved read a well thought out letter why he felt called to another place. I also remember smiling because of the soundness of his reasoning and the effort he put into being nice to us. I did my best to turn the next 2 minutes into a party, even though it meant 7 more months of work for us. Sometimes our needs don’t come first in a process, and believing that changes how you approach it to from the beginning. Thinking of that call still makes me smile.
I agree with Peter Drucker, leading in a not-for-profit situation is one of the best leadership development opportunities for anyone in industry. It is a good reminder of the basic things that still matter, and that a great process not only finds a great person, but allows you to lift up some others along the way. We (for-profit world) have a lot we can learn from the not-for-profit wold