By now, it’s become a cliché: we have two ears and only one mouth, which is evidence of a divine intention that we should spend much more time listening than talking. Usually, the idea is that we learn more by listening than we do by talking. But this morning I was reminded of an important corollary to this notion: in order to teach, lead, guide or mentor anyone successfully, a certain kind of listening is crucial. Not all “listening” is the same.
Let me share this morning’s experience. Like any parents of a near-20-year-old, my wife and I don’t always agree with every choice our son makes. But I discovered in talking with him this morning about one recent decision that he was much more willing to engage in a dialogue with me once he determined that it was going to be just that – a dialogue, not a lecture, and definitely not (dare I say it?) a scolding.
What my discussion with my son reminded me this morning is that it’s not just any “listening” that matters. It’s active, engaged, sincere listening, with the intent to understand and even empathize with the other person’s point of view – particularly when you disagree with him – that can make all the difference in the world between a bitter, nonproductive argument and a useful, mutually beneficial discussion. I came away from my conversation with my son this morning feeling as if we had engaged in the latter. Far too often, I have worked with parents whose discussions with their children degenerate into the former.
By the way, while you’re listening, remember this: if your “listening” consists of simply holding your tongue as you wait your turn, preparing what you’re going to say to refute everything you’ve heard, you probably aren’t doing the most effective listening – and you’re not likely get the best results.
So that’s my thought for today: when you are trying to parent, teach, lead or mentor someone – rather than just passively learn something – listening is good, but active, engaged, empathic listening is better – much better!