I read an article this weekend by Kio Stark that explored the value of talking to strangers. It is a bit of a dissonant idea, isn’t it? We spend much of our time thinking of strangers as being evil, dangerous, and well, strange. And yet, Stark highlights the importance of strangers when travelling, as a resource for truly learning about the place being visited, and as a means to having an authentic visit to a location that one may never get to visit again.
I found this piece to be fascinating because I know how hard it can be to change perception around an idea. Talk to strangers? Really? And be better off for it? It doesn’t seem to make sense, and interestingly Stark highlights five intriguing ways to make connections with strangers (hint: ditch the digital device).
One of the five speaks to the value of listening. Stark writes, “To be truly listened to is a gift, and you can give it to someone.” With this quote, Stark is in some ways saying that strangers not only want to be talked to, but they want to truly be listened to. And, both parties benefit through a parallel desire to share and learn, so it is almost as if it is the traveler’s mission to listen to, and learn from, strangers.
If listening is a cornerstone trait to becoming a better (and more open and accessible) traveler, then it seems safe to assume that this behavior would also be on the short list to traits that help us become better at leading and learning.
And, from my limited experience, this is definitely the case. I’ve watched myself go from being a self-authoring educator (where I hear others, but assume that my ideas are, in fact, the “correct” ones), to someone with a more developed transformational way of knowing (where I welcome dissonant ideas and understand that there is little right/wrong, and simply ideas that fit times/places/spaces better than others). As I have moved towards that transformational way of knowing (and I still have a long way to go), I’ve realized the need for active listening, and have come to the understanding that being a strong listener is one of the best ways to grow as a leader. It still requires much practice on my part, but I’ve become better at waiting until asked to share my thoughts, and when I do speak, being comfortable if my feedback isn’t a deciding factor, and/or isn’t agreed upon by the group-at-large. I still value the importance of “getting my idea out there,” but I’m just as happy listening to others share theirs; there is often much more to learn from others, than from oneself.
And the best part about listening? Both the speaker and the listener benefit tremendously. And for leaders and learners, feeling good about a conversation, and knowing the other person (or people) feel good too, is incredibly helpful towards moving organizations forward.
Stark’s article can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/09/14/travel/talking-to-strangers-tips-travel.html