“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

-Steven R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

I’ll be perfectly honest, I received this well-known book from my first boss (may his memory be for a blessing…) nearly 30 years ago, and I dutifully leafed through it, often rolling my eyes, but not really paying much attention. Now with the benefit of many years of hindsight I can confidently say that I did not come close to understanding any part of it. You see, I had graduated from Duke only a few months before and nobody was going to tell me how I could become better at doing, well, pretty much anything…

But with time and experience comes understanding — and humility. So much humility. The paradox goes something like this: The longer you live, the more you learn, and in that learning the more you realize how much bigger the world really is, so the less you actually know. And once you embrace that reality then you come to understand the value of listening. Really listening. There are volumes of famous quotes about listening, going all the way back ancient times — and for a very good reason. Being human, we tend to forget ourselves and we seek to be understood, rather than to understand. I suspect there are some highly effective people who don’t slip into this trap, but there are not many — and I know that I am certainly not one of them.

It was my great privilege to join the Triangle Community Foundation team a little over three years ago — and in that time our team has embarked on what I have termed “an intense period of introspection.” Some of it has been enlightening, some of it has been uncomfortable, and all of it has been really hard work. The result of that work is a Strategic Roadmap that I think we can all be proud of. It articulates our vision, mission, and values, essentially providing our community with the reason why we exist and why it matters.

Throughout this process, listening has been of paramount importance. We took great pains to ensure that all of our voices were heard and considered because we all agreed that once we undertook this work, we would do it with total authenticity. I have been through too many strategic planning processes where the right ideas were discussed and the right words were documented, but nothing really changed. I am particularly proud of my Foundation colleagues because we are truly committed to this path. Of course we can’t do everything, so will need to prioritize and sequence activities and there will be some course corrections (see Lori’s previous blog post), but you can be sure that we will navigate our future by continuing to listen — to each other, to our fundholders, to our nonprofit partners, and to our community at large.

It’s become increasingly more important that as we continue to promote conversations about issues facing the Triangle, we model and encourage listening to understand with all of our partners. Our What Matters event on Tuesday, April 24th in Raleigh was an excellent example of what is possible; hundreds of people representing the broadest cross-section of our community, coming together to talk, and to listen. As our record crowd demonstrated, we have an incredible power to convene and to communicate, but what happens after that is where partnership comes in.

We want and need you to be committed and engaged — and we look forward to working together as we navigate our shared vision of a thriving future together.

This post was written by Ken Baroff, Vice President of Donor Development at Triangle Community Foundation.