How to Listen Past Your Ego

Just about everyone likes movies of one sort or other. Sometimes I need a straight-up “feel good” movie to put a smile on my face and balance out the negativity that seems to be on every other channel and website.


One of my more recent favorites is “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” in which Tom Hanks (who can do no wrong on screen in my opinion) plays the role of the iconic Mr. (Fred) Rogers. But to me, the most inspiring moment in the film was one of palpable tension.


Cynical reporter Lloyd Vogel (played by Matthew Rhys) gets the chance to interview Mr. Rogers, and eagerly seeks to prove that the beloved children's television icon isn't the modern-day saint the world makes him out to be.


That's when he zeroes in, and baits the hook by asking point-blank about Mr. Rogers' own sons: “What was it like for them growing up? It must have been really hard to have you as a father.”


Anyone who is a parent (and likely anyone who isn't) would instantly bristle at such an overtly insulting question, no matter how you objectively try to rationalize what he could have meant by it.


But Mr. Rogers just sat there, immobile and silent, for what felt like forever, with a look on his face that made plain the thousand possible retorts swirling through his mind. When he finally broke the silence, however, he did so with a very deliberate, measured reply:


“Yes. I'm sure it was. Thank you for the perspective.”


I was floored.


Talk about the road less traveled. The grace, self control and humility it must have taken to listen past his ego, not lash out in anger, self defense, or worse, and even find something to affirm in the personal attack, must have been a herculean effort… at least it would have been for me!


But how was he able to do it? Because he realized that his big picture goals were more important than the fleeting catharsis of verbal retaliation, and it simply wasn't worth taking the bait.


Greg Muzzillo, founder of ProForma and this week's guest on the Speaking to Influence podcast , also shared a powerfully personal lesson in leadership when he, too, had to listen past his ego.



As his company grew, he created a franchise advisory council, in which he invited his franchise owners to be advisors to him.


To his great surprise, the council's first unanimous decision was that for future meetings, Greg would not be allowed in the room! It felt like a punch in the stomach.


But while his momentarily wounded pride may have told him to stand his ground and refuse to leave, to his credit, he resisted the urge to let that reflex drive his response.


Instead, he objectively understood why the council needed him out of the room to be able to speak freely, and that this freedom was not only necessary for them to achieve the best decisions, but it was also ultimately for his own benefit.


After all, HE had picked THEM to help him make the best decision for the company. Did he want a room full of “yes men,” or was he going to trust their collective wisdom, and let them do the job he specifically selected them to do?


So he responded with the three little words that all truly successful leaders need to be able to confidently say to their team:


“I trust you.”


And another subsequent success story was born!


Tune in to the full interview on your favorite podcast platform here or watch the interview on YouTube here.


How about you? Where does your ego make it hard to hear what's really being said and make smart decisions in your response?


As carpenters and contractors say, “Measure twice, cut once.” In those moments of tension, take a moment to breathe and get perspective before responding, and see how much better your results are!