The importance of listening in building trust, particularly in this time of isolation.

Ah, the good old days before the pandemic when the team could be together.

Last week I was thinking about COVID-19 and the people I have worked with and mentored who are feeling so isolated, and I felt compelled to post some thoughts on Facebook. I was surprised with the response I received, and couldn’t figure out why it had touched people, then I concluded that when so many people are feeling alone, it reminded folks of what it was like to work together, and to be about to sit down in my office and talk about things that were important, and to he heard, and supported, without being judged. That post follows, and then the comments I received, each of which humbles me.

This has been a tough year for everyone, and we need to be taking care of each other. I recently saw something that resonated with me, “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm.” And that storm is challenging each of us in different ways.

When I worked at the ABA I was criticized in the later years for spending too much time talking to my interns or other staff members about “non-ABA related topics.” But I didn’t give a damn, I knew the difference between “employment related work” and showing human kindness.

When we moved to the new office many groups were concerned about the high cost of offices. I told our leader at the time, Megan Mack, that she didn’t need to spend the extra money on an office for me, working in a cubicle would be just fine. She smiled, “Don’t be silly. If you didn’t have an office, where would people go to cry?” That is my type of human and my type of leader.

Every intern knew our rules, they could ask me a question anytime, except if my door was closed and I had moved away from my computer to sit next to someone to comfort them. When they peeked in and saw me sitting next to another intern or staff member, they knew something important was going on and they would come back later.

I was so honored that people would come to me with their heartaches, their worries, or life’s crises. Several people came to me to discuss things they had never divulged to anyone else, and that trust was the greatest honor they could bestow upon me.

And my involvement with my team has continued after I stopped working. I continue to hear from former interns and others, for career counseling, resumé reviews, the new stresses they feel in isolation, or just to check in on me, which warms my heart. After I responded to a recent request for contacts, former intern, now law student Grace Paine wrote back to me. “Thank you so much, any of those contacts would be wonderful. Also, I can’t help but notice you sidestepped the ‘how’s life’ question. Was that intentional? Is so, I totally respect that, but I have to ask!

”That meant a lot to me. I replied, “You know me, luckiest person I ever met. Rebecka and I are both immunized, I spend my day in 30 minute intervals, digging in the garden, writing or building something, then 30 minutes watching movies and drinking beer. I am the happiest I have ever been and you are a big part of that.”

When choosing interns I always wanted people with one particular quality. I would tell them, “I can teach you immigration law, but I can’t teach you to have compassion for the immigration detainees who are struggling and who call us for information. I chose you for your good heart.” And when you build a team based on the goodness they have inside, you have people like Grace checking in on me years later.

So, I no longer have my office, but my door is still open to you. Any time you need to talk to me, I am still listening, and available anytime. (Except for my mandatory one nap hour. I follow the Zen rule, eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired.)But I am still here, I still care dearly about you, give me a ring when you need me. I guarantee our chat will be the most important thing I do that day.

Nobody needs to do this alone, reaching out is a sign of strength.

I love you, I support you, and I am proud to be on your team.

In the picture below we have Rebecca Lynn, Grace Paine, Karen Castillo, Marina Giannirakis, and a wandering vagrant.

Adiba Hasan in the sharing chair in my office, my lawyer costume hanging on the door for emergencies.

My final thought is to always take the time to be kind, to listen when someone needs strength and support, and to reach out when you need support.

Published by Robert Lang

Social Justice lawyer and mentor, nurturing calmness, kindness, and adventure. Just trying to leave something good behind.

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