Most leaders think we know how to communicate. We’ve been sharing our words for years, but it is not the words that create the ability to communicate. It is the willingness to listen and to allow others to say things we might not want to hear.

How many times have you prohibited your team members to say what was on their minds, because you reacted in a negative fashion? Maybe you didn’t scream or curse at them, but you showed your disappointment, rolled your eyes, or dismissed them. Since most people don’t like to deal with these responses, you are in effect telling them that you don’t want them to communicate honestly with you.

Do you allow your staff members to have authentic conversations with you? Do you try to hear what they are saying without judgment—judgment of yourself or of them?


The idea is to allow others to converse in an open and candid fashion, realizing that when we close down, we are cheating ourselves of knowledge.

In order to listen to others, we need the ability to not take things personally. What we want is to hear what they are saying without choosing to be hurt. The thing we have to remember is their words are not hurting us; it is our perception of what they are saying. In fact, they can’t hurt us without our permission.

If we are taking what somebody else says personally and judging ourselves, then we believe what they are saying is true. We become angry or hurt, not at their words, but at how we perceive ouselves as failures. The truth is that we can always gain something from their willingness to be honest. We can either hear what they say and decide is not true for us, or we can distinguish the changes we need to make. Either way we are gaining information, which makes us better leaders.

On the other hand, if we choose to prevent conversations to occur because they don’t make us feel good, we are keeping ourselves contained in a shallow box. We are not learning anything about the other person, about us, or about the situation. We also guaranteeing a distance between the two of us.


When I taught a health class in the sping of 2013, I asked the students what they believed was the most important thing in a relationship. Without hesitation, they unanimously said it was communication. Yet, when I asked how many of them believed they had great communication skills, not a single hand was raised.

When we had a class discussion about our lack of communication skills, the students were primed to believe relationships inherently had communication limitations. They were willing to accept the limitations, believing relationships could survive the restrictions.

If all we are attempting is to survive our relationships, then we do have the choice to limit them. Remember, though, the limitation prevents growth between two people and growth in ourselves. The limitation turns into stagnation and stagnation is a sign of death.

It is true that we can be half alive and still function for years. Is this what you desire—the slow death of who you could be? Or do you want to see all the possibilities of who you are and who you are willing to become?