Speak from the Heart to the Heart
And really mean it
“I pay you too much to worry about that right now. You have more important things to be concerned about.” I’ll never forget hearing those words come out of a CEO’s mouth. He was answering questions from his employees about a new vision for increased artificial intelligence. He made the case that it would make the company more effective at meeting the needs of its customers in the health records space. That would be good for the organization and its people in the long run. But at what cost, many wondered. Does more AI mean less employees? A fair question. And with his response, he missed the opportunity to recognize potential loss and intervene by speaking from the heart to the heart.
This leadership skill is difficult to deploy if you don’t have genuine care and concern for those you are engaging. It’s not about “pouring your heart out,” showing tons of emotion or winning others over with vulnerability. This skill is about those you’re engaging, not you. Speaking from the heart towards the heart of others is a strategic choice. And its purpose when deployed should be to mobilize others. For example, engaging a faction by acknowledging that their loyalties are important, naming values that you care about and believe those you’re working with care about too, or connecting “the challenge” to others in a way that speaks to loss they may be concerned about.
In action, it might look like:
- Using basic communication skills: eye contact, active listening, a well thought out environment to engage in
- Learning what others care about: Asking powerful questions and actively listening for clues about what’s on their heart or living in their gut around the challenge
- Telling them you care about their futures, the hopes and their dreams … and actually meaning it because you’ve listened to them
- Sharing a brief story with the purpose of connecting to their values, loyalties or losses
- Speaking with passion, but not out of triggered emotion: Feel the emotion but make a conscious choice when you respond
Speaking from the heart to the hearts of others requires that you speak with a clear purpose in mind. It’s about communicating your values at a level that connects to what others care about. If we return to my opening story, can you imagine what a speak from the heart response might have looked like from the CEO? What might the impact have been if he had told them he cares about their futures in the organization?
I’m sure he was triggered. I’m sure he’d heard that question before. And I know he was feeling the pressure to “sell” the AI idea to keep shareholders happy. However, a brief pause and a purposeful response could have done so much for the employees in that room. What if his response instead had started with, “It took courage to ask a question so many others in this room are thinking about. And I want you to know the impact of AI on our employees is something I think a lot about too …” That alone wouldn’t have mitigated any of the worry. But it would have been a starting point to acknowledge there was space within the organization for difficult conversations to happen in the midst of pending change. And employees seeing that space is an example of progress on a difficult challenge.