I was committed to listening generously going into the meeting with the Senior Human Resources team for a large retail company. They were so glad to see us and had their chairs arranged just so, crescent-shaped so everyone could see. I was genuinely interested in how they set up and managed the HR programs and initiatives that fit the stature of this storied retailer.  

What I found instead was their profound disappointment that all of their brilliant thinking, calculations, messaging and communications were not appreciated by the store employees.  Those employees were leaving the company in ever increasing numbers, and their message was clear: You don’t get us. You are out of touch.

“So there’s a gap,” I said. “There’s no relationship between you and those who are walking the marble floors tonight in stores all across the country.”

Then, I told them how my relationship with my grandchildren used to be about my three rules and making sure they got it:  

  1. Don’t stand on the furniture
  2. Don’t eat anywhere except in the dining areas
  3. Don’t touch the electronics.  

Any relationship beyond that had been handled by Penny, my now deceased wife. Deceased two years.

They all were leaning in at this point.

“The rules now seem hollow. Doesn’t mean they don’t matter, just not in terms of building my relationship with my grandchildren.”

Some eyes were starting to mist-up.

I told the truth about my failure as a grandfather.

I told them I am now committed to my grandchildren being present to my love. I am committed to their being eager to be near me and laugh with me and at me about my quirky rules and even quirkier mannerisms. And they are responding in loving ways that I had never dreamed possible, including keeping the rules without my having to harp on them.

Our work is about bringing a deeper listening and authenticity to relationships, and what that can open up.

This senior team listened so generously to me that it was natural to share my life with them, and we all got value from it. I did not expect that. I can’t wait to hear about the miracles happening around them because of how they’re listening now.