Stop and listen first…

October 25, 2022

A couple of quotes that I’ve saved seem to go together to make a good point about listening.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  (Stephen Covey)

“The simple act of paying attention can take you a long way.” (Keanu Reeves)

Today’s politicians in both major parties seem to have gone beyond Covey’s observation. They not only are not listening to each other’s point of view or concerns but are also not waiting to reply. They are just trying to shout each other down.

The seemingly lost art of compromise requires that both sides listen and try to understand the differences that exist and then try to find a way to satisfy at least some of the concerns of the other side. One must first listen and then try to understand before replying or working towards a compromise.

Covey’s point in particular points out the issue that ego brings into the picture. It starts with the thought “I am right, and I need for you to see and admit that”. That is the impetus behind the intent to reply. If we start instead from the position “I hadn’t considered that point of view before, let me think about that”, it might allow us to have a civil discourse that could lead to compromise.

If your immediate reaction is “Why should I consider the other persons point of view? It is obviously wrong”; then stop and realize that you are a part of the problem and not the solution. Take Reeves advice and pay attention, not to reply but in order to understand.

Some points of view that you may encounter are so alien to your own way of thinking that it is easy to dismiss them as crackpot or too extreme. The task then is not so much to understand the point of view (that may be impossible) but, rather, to understand what is motivating or driving that point of view.

If you pay attention, you may find that fear is the key driver in many, if not all, very extreme points of view. Fear of loss of power, money or control. Fear of the unknown or misunderstood. Fear drives bigotry. Fear drives homophobia. Fear drives misogyny. Fear drives misinformation and conspiracy theories. The anger that you may encounter is just a reaction to those fears.

Trying to understand what the person with whom you are talking is afraid of changes the dynamics of the conversation and allows a path to compromise by allaying those fears. If one starts from the position of “what would it take to lessen your fears and make you more comfortable with this situation or person?”, you are at least on the path towards compromise. You can find that path if you pay attention and listen to understand rather than to reply.

Some of the best listeners that I’ve encountered also make the best conversationists. Conversations with them are satisfying and rewarding because they listen and explore your comments with questions or remarks that bring out more from you. They seem to be more interested in what you will say next than in what they will say next. Somehow that makes what they will say next all the more interesting.

So, take the advice of our quotes today and pay attention. Listen not to reply but to understand. Reply with a question, not a retort. Consider that there may be alternatives to your current point of view.  Understand the underlying fears that may be motivating the other person. Look for the path to a possible compromise.

Stop and listen first.


Say what..?

October 6, 2020

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”  (Peter Drucker) That quote is from the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

Most of us look for signs when communicating, to try to discern what is really being said. We may look at the eyes of the speaker or how they are holding themselves. We also listen to the tempo and timber of their voice, looking for signs of distress, fear or anger. We are searching for those non-verbal clues that help us understand what we are hearing. One of the fascinating things about the TV show The Voice is that the four stars who are listening and choosing singers for their teams don’t get to see them until they turn their chairs. Quite often, they are surprised when they turn around. They are judging the singers purely on the sound of their voice. I also recall the look of total shock on the faces of the judges when Susan Boyle started to sing on America’s Got Talent. They had all prejudged her based on her appearance and speaking voice. Many of us fall into that trap when we prejudge people on their appearance, especially when we let race creep into our judgements.

Sometimes, when the person speaking is trying to hide their emotions, it is difficult to “hear” the cries for help that are being transmitted. Stoic people can be especially hard to “read”. Sometimes one needs to focus upon the context of the conversation to gain insight into the situation. A person may try to very matter-of-factly drop something into a conversation, as if it doesn’t really matter, when they are, in fact, asking for help. Other times you may hear some sad news, but it is delivered in such a way that you know the speaker is all right. Perhaps just a commiserating reply is sufficient in those cases. Offering the support of understanding and friendship is all that may be needed.

There are all sorts of books and articles about “body language” and how to look for and recognize the signs that are there in a person’s mannerisms and how they are holding themselves during the conversation. Books like Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Nell Scovell and Sheryl Sandberg, offer advice on some of the non-verbal cues that can affect success in the business world. The important thing is to be aware of the many non-verbal things that are going on in any encounter.

Being a good listener means not only listening to the words that are being said, but also taking into consideration all that is not being said and adding those factors into the experience and into your responses. Are you a good listener? Many people are so wrapped up in what they are going to say next that they miss both the verbal and non-verbal context of the conversation. Force yourself to really listen to what is being said and to look closely at what is not being said. You will get more out of the conversation and you will be able to contribute more to meeting the needs of the other person, whether they say they have needs or not.

You don’t have to be a great speaker to be a great communicator, but you do have to know that what is being said is only a part of the communications that is going on. Great communicator’s pickup on all that is being said (verbal and non-verbal) and react to the whole message. What do you see when you’re talking to someone? Say what?


Lead with your heart…your head will catch up

February 20, 2019

A recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog contained this bit of advice –

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.”  (Donald Laird)

It is always good advice to use your head to maintain control of yourself, especially before you do things that you might regret, like speaking when listening is what is best. We tend to associate things like logic and intelligence with the head, while the heart isvisualization associated with empathy and emotions. Where things like prejudices and hate come from is a mystery, since they defy real logic and certainly don’t express empathy. They are perhaps closer to emotions that are based upon imagined fears.  Those feelings live in a dark place in our heads and had to be put there by someone, since they are not innate within people. Fears and prejudices cause us to avoid or hate the things or people associated with them for no logical reason.

The first step to overcoming one’s fears and prejudices is to use your head to acknowledge that you have them; then let your heart take over to deal with them in the predjuicesspecific instance that you are facing. We tend to hate or fear people in large, blurry groups that we classify as “they” or “them”. It is somehow easier to lump large numbers of people into those prejudiced categories in those dark places in our minds. We think that “all” of a certain type of people present a danger to us; and thus, are to be avoided.  We immediately think that everyone who displays certain characteristics of appearance or behavior is one of “them” and by association inherits all of the other characteristics that we have loaded on that group in our minds.

When circumstances bring us face to face with someone from one of our feared/prejudice groups the outcome is most often very different than we initially image.handshake We discover the individual, rather than the group. Our heart takes over and allows us to see the fellow human being that is there, rather than the group characteristics that the prejudices in our head may initially associate with them.  That pause allows the head to kick in again and to begin having an intelligent interaction with the person, rather than one driven by fears.

Perhaps the best advice is that in the headline for today’s post. Lead with your heart when dealing with others. Let’s your heart’s natural instinct for empathy and listenfriendliness initiate the encounters that you have with others during the day. Let your heart tell you when it’s best to just listen and commiserate, rather than letting your brain start running your mouth. Your brain may come up with all sorts of things to say that it thinks will be interesting, but your heart will tell you that what the other person may need  right now is someone to just listen.

So, resolve to lead with your heart today. Give everyone you encounter the benefit of the doubt, rather than automatically categorizing them into some prejudice group based upon their appearance. Start off with the attitude that this person you just met is this-is-mesomeone who may become a friend, rather than someone to be feared and avoided.  Lead with your heart. Don’t worry, your head will catch up.


If only I hadn’t…

July 27, 2018

Those are some sad words to begin your thoughts about something or someone. Somesorry 3 advice from today’s post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog are well worth considering –

“Before you speak, listen.  Before you write, think.  Before you invest, investigate.  Before you criticize, wait.”  (Unknown)

judge thingsI might add, “Before you judge…” I’ll let you fill in the words that should follow that opening phrase. There’s the old Biblical saw from Matthew 7 – “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” It is the rush to judgement that provides the foundation of prejudices and fears.

In today’s social media world, one could add, “Before you post, pause” or maybe “Before facebook share buttonyou Tweet, reconsider.” The same is true of sending emails or text messages or posting to Instagram. Everything is retained somewhere these days and lots and lots of trials and media stories revolve around the content of those electronic posts that people seem to send off without regard to their future use or misuse.

So, it is good advice to take the time to think about what one is saying or writing or boredposting before opening one opens one’s mouth or before hitting the send/post button. In interpersonal settings, the advice should probably be to listen more than you talk and to carefully choose your words, if you feel the need to express an opinion or to react to something that someone else has said. I recall the quote –

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Unknown

You might not be thought to be a fool, perhaps shy, quiet or somewhat withdrawn; but, jerkany of those is better than becoming well known as a prejudiced bigot. It is better to be considered to be somewhat of an enigma than to be well known as a jerk or an idiot.

I was going to write more about the topic of applying this advice to discussions about politics; but then I took the advice from above, stopped and thought. Enough said and written.

If you are reading this, I decided to hit the post button. If only I hadn’t…


You must work at communicating…

March 8, 2016

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”  (Cool Hand Luke) – seen on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

I remember seeing the Paul Newman movie when it was released and how jarring thePaul Newman ending was, when the jail warden grabbed the gun and shot and killed Newman’s character. Perhaps in today’s world of seemingly weekly police shootings it would not have been so unexpected.

Sometimes we worry if anyone hears what we are saying. Much of the time that may not be the issue. The real issue is do they understand what we are saying…are we communicating. In the common vernacular the phrase “you know” is used as both a statement and a question and is meant somehow to be a shortcut to understanding. But what if the other party doesn’t know? What if they have no life experience basis for knowing? What if they come from a different culture, where the things that we know are not common knowledge or experiences? How much are you communicating when you use the phrase, “you know?”

Jack made the point also that communications is a critical part of any relationship, divorceespecially those within a marriage and a family. A failure to communicate is probably the root cause of the breakup most marriages that end in divorce. I’ve written here in the past about the need to have a deeper level of relationship than just the sexual attraction in any marriage and that level is only reached through communications, through sharing and understanding each other’s beliefs, dreams, hopes, and interests openly. It is really a cop-out when one partner says to the other, “Well you should know what I want, I shouldn’t have to tell you.” In fact neither of you will ever just figure things out if you don’t communicate and share with each other – what do you want, what would make you happy, what can I do for you and you for me. It is the lowering of the shields and the baring of the souls to one another through communications that builds the bounds that keep marriages together.

The same rules apply to life in general. If you don’t communicate what you want in life, don’t expect others to be able to figure tit out and give those things to you. At work there may be formal reviews or just informal times with the boss in which you can express your ambitions and ask for his/her help to achieve them. That communications should be a two way learning experience, with you finding out what you need to improve or do and the bossexplaining finding out your ambitions and your willingness to work to achieve them. It also helps you clarify your goals when you have to verbalize them in communications with others.

In any form of communications there is also the task of making sure that you have properly received, interpreted and understand the message or information. Your ability to internalize what has been communicated to you is greatly influenced by your point of view and your background. There is an old saw “seeing is believing”. I wrote recently about people “seeing” things differently in my post “I can see clearly now”. Do you think that blacks and whites see two different realities when they see the dash cam videos that are almost a nightly occurrence on the news.

It is up to each of us to take the time and put in the work needed to communicate to others and to understand what they are trying to communicate to us. For some of us that may mean just shutting up, so that that other party can get a word in edgewise. You are not communicating is you are doing all of the talking. For others the challenge may be to find the right words to express their feelings and desires, without appearing to be selfish or clingingself-centered. It is OK to tell that overly attentive partner that you need some “alone time.” We all need some time to ourselves, times of silence and contemplation. Often it is the need of the partner for constant assurances and attention that drive us apart. Their “clinging” is a sign of insecurity that needs to be discussed in an open honest communication with them.

I’ve posted a couple of times here on the topic of the benefits of openly discussing your issues with someone that you can trust, one such post was titled “Can we talk”, which discussed the role of a friend in providing a listening post for you to communicate your issues and your role to return the favor for them. All of these posts about communications end up with the same advice- you have to work at it to make it happen and to benefit from it. Working at it means that you have to be cognizant of your own needs and receptive to understanding the needs of others. Don’t go to your grave with the epitaph “I wish you had told me…” engraved on your tombstone.

Communicate; ask and tell; work at it. Don’t let your life become a failure to communicate.