Listening First in Business and Politics

“Actions speak louder than words” and “think before you act.” This is sage advice that every one of our mothers gave us growing up. I will bet that we have used these expressions ourselves when giving counsel to others. These words of wisdom are encouraging the art of listening.

Throughout my business career as our company grew to a Fortune 500 corporation, I had the honor of interviewing hundreds of applicants. My goal in these sessions was to find the right people who would fit in with our culture and would have an opportunity for a great career. In addition, I always had the goal of making a friend. 

Most of us have been through interviews. There are the standard questions and answers. However, when an interview becomes a conversation, that’s when you begin the process of making a friend and perhaps finding a long time contributor to the mission of your business. How does that happen? By listening.

One of the most often-asked interview questions is “who is the most influential person in your life?” Standard answers cover Mom, Dad, Granddad, Jesus, etc. But I have also heard a stranger, a child, a very sick person, a quadriplegic, a teacher, a rich guy, a homeless man, a pastor and an ex-convict. Actually, the answers constitute a long list covering every aspect of society. When I’ve dug a little bit to find out why these individuals were so influential, it’s become clear that they have a common trait. I heard hundreds of times, “this person listened to me.” In other words, this person cared enough to listen.

The Listener is influential because they place the other person in a position of importance and value. By listening you say without words, “I care about your problem,” “I want to help,” “you are important,” “I want to understand what is on your mind,” and “let’s find common ground.”

Listening does not come easy. It takes a real commitment. I know first hand. I was once tasked with merging divisions in our organization. It was a great promotion and wonderful opportunity. I was on a mission. I was so intent on meeting our goals that I blew past the people I needed most. Fortunately for me, I was pulled aside by co-workers and reminded that I needed to be listening. Quite frankly, I was blinded by my promotion and felt that I knew best. But listening allows others to do what they do best. I regrouped and began listening once again. It led me to stop and respect the needs and concerns of others. The mood changed dramatically, and I restored the respect that I’d worked so hard to gain. New ideas and insights emerged, and we met our goals.

Today, I find myself seeking political office, to represent the people of North Carolina’s Second District in the United States Congress. This is the most exciting and humbling adventure of my life’s journey. The heart of our campaign is listening, being responsive, showing up and matching words with actions. This is a great definition of representation. Interestingly, I have been criticized by one of my opponents because I am listening to our citizens. Perhaps we should all remember this anonymous poem:

A wise old bird lived in an oak.
The more he saw the less he spoke.
The less he spoke the more he heard.
Why can’t we be like that wise old bird? 


Jim Duncan, Retired Fortune 500 Business Leader and Candidate for U.S. Congress from North Carolina’s 2nd District
December 2015