Many of us say we’re good listeners, but how many of us really listen to another person’s opinion?

When I say listen, I don’t just mean wait for them to stop talking before we talk. I mean deeper than that.

How many of us truly try to understand where someone else is coming from?

How many of us are open to having our own thoughts and ideas challenged—or even changed?

You only have to watch the news for a few short minutes today to see that the answer is: not many.

One of the greatest hindrances our country—hell, the world—faces right now is our inability or our unwillingness to listen.

Everyone walks around with the idea that their views are correct, and they’ll be damned if anyone is going to tell them differently.

I saw this at an early age. Growing up mixed-race forced me to double down on my “navigation” skills. Because I’m half black and half white, I had to understand interpersonal dynamics in a deep way, just to survive.

I wasn’t “black enough” for the black community and was made fun of for having a white mother. Even so, my skin color stood out in Lake Oswego, where I was pulled over and questioned as to why I was driving through the neighborhood, despite the fact that I lived there.

Because of this—because I know what it’s like for someone to not actually listen—I’ve always been willing to hear someone else’s point of view.

When I speak about this topic, I often get the same question:

“JT, I don’t have your background. I come from a two-parent home. I live in white suburbia. How can I approach things this way? How can I listen to learn?”

The answer I give them is that I don’t ever look to my upbringing and the challenges I faced. I know what I’ve been through. Instead, I look to the experiences of others. I put myself in someone else’s shoes.

I think about people in a hospital room with cancer that can’t get out of bed to use the restroom.

I think about parents in Syria, standing at the water’s edge, considering getting on a blow-up raft to go across the Mediterranean to flee their country to try and make a better life for their families.

I think about the mother with two children walking 1,100 miles from Honduras to the Texas border just to try to get into this country.

We don’t have to have been through terrible struggles to understand what someone else has been through or is going through—but we do have to be willing to open our minds and hearts to at least understand their experience, from their point of view.

Truly listening to and understanding someone else’s perspective doesn’t mean you have to change your mind. It doesn’t mean that they’re right and you’re wrong—but it might.

I don’t only apply this to life, but to business as well. If I’m not willing to listen to the other side when it comes to business, then I’m doomed to fail.

If I can’t understand the challenges those I serve in our company might face, then how can I truly serve them?

How can I recognize problems within our business if I think my way is always the right way?

When we close our mouths, open our ears, and listen, we’ll be amazed at what we hear.

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