People sometimes forget they were born with one mouth and two ears. Might we not learn valuable lessons if only we listened twice as much as we talked? We have two hands (so that we can lift and handle things), two feet (so that we can travel along the path which we choose), two hemispheres within our brain (some say for redundancy) and two eyes (allowing us focus while moving forward), and the aforementioned two ears – but only one mouth. Might not this reality provide some significance regarding the importance of listening (as opposed to talking) – of hearing and considering (with both sides of our brain) rather than thoughtlessly interrupting others with words coming from our single mouth? What would happen if people began to listen before speaking – or if our elected officials listened at all? PERHAPS the world would become a very different place if we listened before speaking AND thought before opening our mouths. Think about the power that silence could exhibit over our thoughts and minds if only we allowed it to inhibit our actions before committing to the path our words might lead us to travel – the validation it might bring to the intentional and fully developed actions we might make if only we were to look and listen before we leap.
Most people approach a situation directly, walking into it with their heads held high, their eyes open (with their mouths rarely closed) striving to establish a position or opinion in whatever the matter might be. Too few people begin to resolve a situation by asking “why?” Most prefer to state what they feel (know or understand) rather than seeking the sublime. Perhaps we could resolve issues more effectively (and in a more lasting manner) by identifying their root cause (asking questions) before addressing them boldly (acting on what we hear) RATHER THAN by simply reacting to what appear to be obvious symptoms without understanding or consideration. It has been stated that we retain only a small fraction of what we hear…think how much less we will retain if we are too busy talking (and reacting) to pay attention to what is being said by others!
It takes courage to listen. In order to listen one often must be the first to ask questions – potentially putting themselves at risk of ridicule or second-guessing. In order to ask, one admits (either directly or implicitly) that he or she does not know something – an admission that is difficult for many. To be an effective listener we must recognize that gathering information in order to make a decision is a sign of strength rather than an admission of weakness. When one goes about problem resolution in the correct manner, the only failure one can make is deciding to act before all the facts have been gathered and discussed. Questioning should never simply validate one’s thoughts or preconceived conclusions but rather clarify, expand and refine a solution before implementation. Remain receptive to what you might hear, however, while questioning others. Far too many of us admit our small weaknesses and apprehensions in order to hide our greater flaws and insecurities from others RATHER THAN seeking to overcome our inadequacies by accomplishing great things.
A good listener knows not only when to encourage discussion but also when to end a conversation. When facilitating a discussion group or work team meeting, good listening may involve asking open-ended questions (as opposed to giving close-ended solutions), encouraging others to expand on partially developed thoughts (rather than adding to it yourself), and drawing introspective individuals into the conversation. When listening for effective solutions, the only “bad or dumb question” is one not asked (or that you either openly discourage or simply fail to encourage). Asking questions with the understanding that you will wait for an answer before moving forward requires one to keep their mouth closed while opening both ears so that what is heard can be processed before something is said that might stifle an otherwise productive conversation.
Have you ever heard that “actions speak louder than words?” People often say things like “I care…I’m interested…I’m listening…” as they continue writing or working when someone comes into their office to speak. They might ask all the right questions but discourage an engaged response by quietly sitting with their arms crossed, their foot tapping, and a vacant look in their eyes that screams, “I do not hear you nor do I care!” While we have two ears with which to listen, our body is much larger than our ears and can make a greater impression upon someone trying to speak than does our silence or feigned interest. Make an effort to keep your mind receptive to the words spoken when others answer your questions (or ask questions of their own). Listening involves more than simply hearing - it requires the processing of information and the generation (and delivery) of solutions. It requires open and honest communication by two (or more) individuals refusing to hear simply the words used in a discussion – for there is always more left unsaid than is said during any conversation. We must concentrate to hear the subtleties beyond the words used to converse if we hope to discern the underlying thoughts that are being withheld. Paying attention to the “tone” of another’s body language when listening will often allow us to “hear” more by watching (we were given two eyes as well as two ears…we can see twice as much as we say) than by listening.
Listening is a complex task. Some people listen far too much, acting far too infrequently (back to the elected official reference?). Others act too quickly without taking the time to hear alternative possibilities. A patient listener can be a great addition to any work team BUT too many listeners can impede progress – particularly when strong individuals who speak before listening (or thinking) mistakenly view good listeners as being “weak” or “followers.”
In order to work with and through people we must act on what they say as well as on what may be implied but not said. We must link listening skills to intentional actions in order to accomplish specific tasks. How much more might be accomplished in our world if only people would “listen more loudly than they speak” while acting boldly on what they hear? Unless we learn to listen – then to act intentionally in order to bring about change – we may never know what could possibly be accomplished when we move relentlessly forward under the banner of “why not” (rather than being content with all that has been done and all that has been said).