“Listen” … the second of Pelzie’s three principles. I sometimes ask myself how that simple word “listen” can end up to be so complicated. When I was as young as Pelzie’s children are now, I remember being pretty prolific at talking, and I certainly had my share of difficulties trying to master the other half of communication that I wasn’t accustomed to: listening.
After I retired as CEO of Ex Officio Inc., I used to think, “I wish I could have had someone like myself to coach me.” But, honestly, I’m not sure if I would have been secure enough to listen even if I had. Secure enough to listen? By all appearances, I was a secure and confident guy. After all, wasn’t I leading a successful company? Sure I was but, my typical modus operandi was listening so I could rebut instead of listening so I could understand.
Once while I was CEO, I had the bright idea to separate Ex Officio’s domestic business and its international business into two separate companies. My attorney clearly didn’t think the idea was great, but I thought, “What did he know? I know my business better than he does!” At one of the trade shows we attended, I met a gentleman who had terrific connections in Japan. His authenticity within the Japanese market seemed beyond reproach and I wanted to hire his firm to represent us in Japan. During our discussions, it came out that he was “tired” of building up other companies and wanted a “piece of the action” if he were to represent us. This seemed reasonable to me. And, because of my brilliant plan to separate the domestic business from our international business, it was eminently doable. Six months later it became clear to everyone at Ex Officio that this great idea of mine was a complete mess that took a lot of time and money to rectify.
If only I had learned Pelzie’s second principle – listen – my mistakes in this transaction would have been minimized. First, I should have listened to my attorney to understand the possible pitfalls in separating the company. Because separating the company fragmented and complicated finance, potential financial partners and investment bankers were not thrilled by my great idea. I also should have done a more thorough background and reference check on the new Japanese representatives before becoming business partners. One of my friends who owned a thriving travel bag company later said to me, “Why didn’t you ask me about this guy, I would have told you about his volatile personality.”
Why didn’t I listen? I think I made the fatal mistake of confusing being secure with being confident, and I certainly had no shortage of confidence! As it turned out, my confidence was a mask for my insecurity. Secure people are secure enough to listen to other opinions without judging them. Listening without judgment doesn’t mean you have to accept all of these opinions. Intently listening simply means you have a much greater opportunity to make informed decisions.
What a lesson in listening! So I guess you might think that after that incident I became a great listener, but that is not the case! Even to this day, I often need to remind myself to listen. Unless you are a natural listener, listening is rarely fully mastered.