In 1989 Stephen Covey wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It is still a source of wisdom to me and one of the few books I revisit to align to my true north. My 2 favorite habits are  “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” and “Begin with the end in mind”. They both play a part in today’s discussion.

When I introduce a new Member to Vistage, I describe how we are with each other in the peer group. We don’t jump in and cut the person off unlike in almost every other group setting. We wait. We consciously let the person complete their thought. We begin the discussion with only questions for clarification or deeper understanding. We ask how the person feels about the issue. We ask the cost of doing nothing about it.  We seek first to understand. This is what we need to be doing in this difficult time in our culture. We need to listen.

And, why are we listening? Begin with the end in mind. Really. What are you asking? Who are you asking? If your goal is to understand the pain that black Americans have been feeling, how are you going about learning?

Yesterday, I was watching Emmanual Acho’s youtube videos, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man”. He said so many white people had contacted him to ask what they could do that he decided to create this youtube series. To watch his series is to begin a search for understanding.

When the #metoo movement gained traction in 2019, there were a lot of new conversations, but there was also a real listening for the first time to what women had been saying for years. As nice as it was for these conversations to be taken seriously, finally, it was also really frustrating for women. We were being asked to ‘splain what it was like to be one-down. This is the same thing that is happening in our communities of color.

Before you go ask your black friends to tell you what their experience has been like, watch some of the videos on youtube, read some of the books and articles* recommended by black leaders. It is not up to them to educate you.

Then begin with the end in mind. What is your intention? Are you seeking to understand?  What I know about difficult conversations is that if your intention is pure, you don’t have to have the perfect list of questions. Just listen hard and be humble. Great habits that Covey would endorse. This week, educate yourself in a way that is uncomfortable. If you are already in action, good for you. We will talk about KPI’s around action next week.


*Vistage Member’s can find more in our new Diversity and Inclusion Resource Center, and can join the Diversity network.