Jerry Colonna might be the most empathetic person in business. If it were possible to make a living off the tears of founders and leaders everywhere… well he’s doing it. And I mean that in the best way possible.
Jerry is a well-respected coach and advisor to founders and leaders of some of the most well-known startups in the world. His thesis: you don’t actually need more tactics or directions to get where you’re going. But you might need to deal with the pain you’re carrying around from your childhood. In the process you might just become a better human. “Better humans make better leaders,” as his bio says.
On his journey to helping founders make emotional breakthroughs, he’s found three questions (which he originally learned from his therapist, Dr. Avivah Sayres) that can help guide us to where we should start our journey of emotionally growing up.
I’ve already found them incredibly helpful in my marriage and at work, and I bet you will to. The three questions:
- What am I not saying that needs to be said?
- What am I saying that’s not being heard?
- What’s being said that I’m not hearing?
So few words, so much meaning.
What am I not saying that needs to be said?
I know this one all too well. Or should I say, I am a world champion at avoiding this question when I really want to.
The result is inevitably resentment. My cycle goes something like this:
“I’m sacrificing so much. I’m such a good person. I don’t even need acknowledgement because the sacrifice is reward enough on its own.”
“Occasionally, it might be nice for someone to say thanks. I don’t need much, but it sure would feel good to be appreciated.”
“Why does everyone else get to do the work they most want to do? I’m over here doing all of the hard work, making sure nothing falls apart. Can’t anyone else carry their own weight?”
Whether it’s a job, a relationship, or a volunteer activity, it’s so easy for me to have endless conversations in my own head and never get around to saying any of it out loud. The most common thing I neglect to say: what I need and what I want.
What are the things you’re not saying, but need to say in order for your relationships to heal and grow?
What am I saying that’s not being heard?
Every once in a while I’ll get the courage up to say out loud the thing I most want in all the world right in this moment.
Sometimes, it might be as small as ice cream. Other times, it might be something as big as moving to a new house or getting dedicated office space.
Because I’m so hesitant to share what I need or want to begin with, it’ll often come out as, “hey, if you don’t have anything else going on and can’t think of anything else you’d want to spend your time, money, or energy on and if it won’t bother you too much, it’d be pretty great if we could go get ice cream some time.”
HELLO!! I want ice cream right now, not some day maybe. But that’s not what I say.
What do I get in return? Exactly what you would expect when you give the other person/people every possible reason to say no. A lackluster, “Right now?.” And then I sulk away and remind myself that I never should have said anything to begin with because no one cares what I want or need.
It’s a stupid example that highlights the 1,000 ways in which I incorrectly convince myself that my own needs are subservient to everyone else’s.
If I stop to think for just a moment, I can start to see the things that are actually very important to me that I’ve only brought up in passing. These are the things I need to spend time communicating more effectively and emphatically to show their importance.
So, what’s your ice cream thing? What are you saying that’s not being heard?
What’s being said that I’m not hearing?
Just when you get through the exercise of thinking about the things you’re not saying… then you spend time digging in on the topics about which you’re not being heard… then the table turns and we realize there are at least a handful of people who are begging for us to truly hear them.
Now we’re the ones not listening about everyone else’s ice cream craving.
For me, these are the people I should be listening more closely to:
- My wife
- My CEO
- The people on my team
- My closest friends and family
- Even my two dogs (albeit with actions, not words)
The second I write a person’s name, I can recall at least one thing they’ve said to me when I wasn’t listening closely enough. I was distracted. I had my own needs, so I ignored theirs. Or maybe I just couldn’t get outside of my own perspective for long enough to really understand things from their point of view.
What an opportunity for connection — to go back to those people and be able to say, “I’ve been working on me lately and I realized I never really heard you when you said _______________. Can you share more about that with me now that I’m ready to really listen?”
If you want to give a gift, don’t react with words – just expressions of understanding and empathy.
When they’re done – truly done – sharing… only then use your words to repeat back to them a summary of what you’ve heard them say. And then ask if you got it right.
You probably didn’t, but the effort you put into actively listening and reflecting their words back to them will communicate how important they are to you.
What’s being said that you’re not hearing?
Words have such power, if only we’ll use them well and listen carefully
Three simple questions with deeply rooted answers. Those answers are attached to our pain — the pain we’ve felt and the pain we’ve caused.
If we really listen to what the answers have to teach us, I’ve found they’ll lead to healing, connection, and understanding. What beautiful new ground to stand on.
Jerry Colonna’s book, Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up, is the inspiration for this post. If these questions resonate with you, then I highly recommend you take the time to read the book.