Sound Decisions Begin with Listening

Barack Obama has made some of the biggest decisions in our lifetime. From halting troop deployment to authorizing a raid on Osama bin Laden — we’ve witnessed them all. Just like him, we’re consistently making tough decisions. Recently, Obama took the time to share how he made decisions during his presidency.

There’s a difference between hearing and listening. A vast difference. Hearing is perceiving the sound while listening is understanding the sound with intention. Harvard Business Review describes listening as a muscle that requires “training, persistence, effort, and intention.” Listening is a leadership tool that has not been overlooked by Obama. His ability to listen to his internal thoughts, those around him, and even the contrarians have helped Obama leave a lasting impression as the people’s president.

It’s important to note there isn’t a right way when making a decision. Every person is unique in their approach. For Obama, he boiled his decision-making process into four approaches.

What Makes Barack Obama’s Decision-Making Framework Unique

  • Empathy: In his Medium post, Obama revealed he once was part of a group that teased another peer at school. He recalls his mother explaining how there are people in the world that tear others down and then there are those who avoid hurting others. It was in the midst of confrontation, Obama’s mother asked him the basic question of his life: “Which kind of person do you want to be?” A pivotal moment in his life. So much so, that Obama admitted that even after all these years, this question has become a guiding principle when making decisions. For example, Obama’s ideology behind the Affordable Care Act was to ensure that every American had the right to health insurance from young adults to older folks — no one should have to struggle to live.
  • Inclusiveness: One staffer, Valerie Jarrett, pointed out to Obama how the culture in the White House had led the women staffers to stop contributing to meetings. Obama wrote how the women were “experiencing a culture where the men on the team interrupted them, dismissed their ideas before adopting them as their own, and generally made them feel diminished.“ When it comes to making any decision, everyone must be included. Incorporating multiple perspectives enhances the decision-maker's ability to make better-informed choices. In Obama’s case, he knew the consequence of dismissing his women staffers and the value in their perspective. While restructuring the culture, Obama candidly explains how these women were the most important advisors on his team.
  • Listening: Obama soaked up every perspective in the room when making a decision. He’d even “call on folks in the back row, including the most junior staffer.” Of course, part of that tactic was ensuring everyone came into meetings prepared with their ideas. Making a sound decision means utilizing all the resources at hand, receiving feedback, and checking your blind spots. What makes Obama a good listener is his ability to focus and thoughtfully consider perspectives despite the position, role, or level. Why? Because every voice matters.
  • Productivity: Now, stay with us, but allowing your thoughts to “wander and deepen” helps you come to sound decisions. Well, at least for Obama. He mentioned how there’s no such thing as a “well-timed” break, but Obama shared how “savoring a quieter moment” like a walk around the small pool near the Oval Office or dinner with his family decluttered his mind and refined his thinking. Many times, leaders are given flack for making immediate decisions, but the truth of the matter: Part of the decision process is walking away and letting your “thoughts marinate.”

Quote of the Week:

“You can't make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.” —Michelle Obama, Former First Lady of the United States

Conversation Starters

  • Analytical Thinking: This Dell executive used her problem-solving skills and ability to use data to make informed decisions to transition into the new role. (Source: CNBC)
  • Communication: Giving feedback can be tough especially when it comes to design and product feedback. Here’s a guide to help you. (Source: Twitter)
  • Hiring: When it comes to navigating your job search in 2021, focus on what you can control. (Source: Business Insider)
  • Leadership: For the people stepping into a leadership role virtually, this one is for you. (Source: CNN)
  • Social Media Management: Twitter just announced they’ll be testing an audio-only chat room feature. (Source: TechCrunch)

From the Matter to team you, we’re wishing all our readers happy holidays! We can’t wait to share everything with you when we return in the new year! We’ll be back on January 12, 2021. See you in the inbox! 🥳

Editor’s Corner

Question of the Week: “One of my colleagues is an introvert, how do I interact with them without overstepping or forcing a conversation? ” —Shaneé, recruiter

Editor’s Recommendation: Communicating with introverted peers requires patience. Here’s what I recommend: listen, respect boundaries, and find common ground. Practice active listening when your introverted teammates are speaking by paying attention, displaying appropriate body language, and responding appropriately. When it comes to respecting boundaries, avoid asking personal, intrusive questions. Instead, keep your conversations broad and high-level unless they decide to go into details.

Lastly, find common ground based on your observations. If your peer is talking about taking a vacation, ask them where they’re going. This is a great method to get them comfortable and open to talk. From there, that’s your opportunity to connect with your introverted peers.

Now’s Your Turn

Listening tends to be an overlooked skill, so let's work on it together. Ask your peers to help you level up.

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