“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. . .”
- James 1:19
In 1994, shortly after our company had acquired another large Wall street firm, I was sent on a mission as part of a team of four who traveled the country from city to city in an effort to integrate the two very different cultures. As sometimes occurs in corporate mergers, many of those from the acquired company met us with hostility, from suspicion to down right anger. Our instructions, though, were to be patient and kind in such instances, to listen empathetically to their fears and concerns, and to avoid becoming defensive or argumentative. (Sometimes that was easier said than done.)
One of my favorite anecdotal stories involved a gentleman who was especially contentious. In our meetings he was continually disruptive, making negative remarks based mostly on hearsay, and asking difficult questions intended to trip us up. Nothing we could say would sooth his anger. But in the months that followed his attitude began to shift as we followed through on our promises, helping him to not only sustain his business but to grow it beyond what it had ever been before. Over time he and I moved from being enemies to friends; eventually, I would say, even close friends.
That whole experience was a great lesson for me in the power of making the effort to understand others, the key ingredients of which are patience, kindness, integrity, empathetic listening, and thoughtful expression. For me, being part of that team was an opportunity to participate in a rare act of honest diplomacy in what is too often a ruthless, uncivil world fractured by misunderstanding. The end result was a profoundly successful merger where two cultures were – over time – able to blend into one.
As St. Francis of Assisi wrote in his often-quoted prayer, “Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.” And the key ingredient lies in the instructions from James: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Does that formula not hold true for all relationships if they are to become successful, including marriages, families, friends and neighbors, co-workers, businesses, as well as our fellow citizens?