As we sat down to dine, Dharma started talking. I have to admit, that I was a little distracted. I have a lot going on these days and my attention was elsewhere so the only thing I heard was his sharp, "Irwin, are you paying attention? I asked you a question about your family?" I don't know how long I had "zoned out" but his tone of voice quickly jolted me back to reality. "Sorry, Sir," I responded. "Yes, the family is fine and Quigley, Jr. is enjoying the new school year." "Tadpole, that's not what I asked you but I'm happy that everyone is well. I can see that perhaps I need to shift the topic of my lesson today. My boy, the frog who listens well is as powerful as the frog who speaks well." And with that, my lesson on listening began.
"Irwin, at its root, listening is the act of mindfully hearing and attempting to comprehend the meaning of words spoken by another person. But listening is also the most important ingredient for building strong leadership, healthy relationships, thriving organizations, and democratic governments." If you need proof, just think of a recent time when you felt like no one was listening. How did that make you feel? Not very good, I suspect. You probably felt disrespected as if what you had to say wasn't worth the listener's time. Active listening is a specific communication skill which involves giving free and undivided attention to the speaker. It is also the most effective agent for individual change and group development Generally frogs, and humans as well, who are afraid to listen deeply are afraid that they might learn something new; that they will have to open up their minds, and maybe even their hearts, to new ideas. That can be terrifying to some but, my boy, knowledge is power and listening is an important way to gain both knowledge and power. Are you with me so far?" "Yes, Sir. I can see that listening is important and by tuning out the speaker we could miss out on learning something new and important. It is also disrespectful of the speaker. Listening can be hard, Dharma, especially in this day and age of information overload. It's difficult to concentrate on one topic at a time. The mind is always busy and in a rush. Will you please give me a few tips for improving my listening? I'd like to share them with my readers. I'm sure many of them have difficulty listening deeply, too."
Dharma smiled. He was pleased that I wanted to improve my listening skills.
1. Know that it's all about you. Too often we listen faintly as we form another question or clever comment in our mind. We wait for the person to breathe so we can get our point in. Learning to listen well, extraordinarily well. Become someone more interested in learning about others than talking about yourself.
2. Learn to be able to communicate accurately what you've heard. Good Communication is not about saying something. It’s not about the audience hearing it either. It’s when the listener understands your message and can repeat it back. It’s when that person understands the nuances, the emotion, and the content.
3. Stay in the present. A good listener is not thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list or yesterday’s meeting. A good listener is with you, in the moment, practicing the power of now.
4. Clarify and repeat. A good listener often asks questions to understand. They want to make sure that they are seeing it correctly through your eyes, sensing the sights, smells and feelings as you do.
5. Understand the emotional content of the message being given. If you listen with your brain, you can accurately parrot back facts and figures. If you also listen with your heart, you can sense on an emotional level, as well.
"Irwin, I know you enjoy listening to classic rock and roll so I'll leave you with a quote from one of the greatest rock musicians of all times. Jimi Hendrix once said, 'Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.' I couldn't have said it better myself. I hope my lesson today has helped you to see the value of actively listening to each conversation, no matter how trivial they might seem. There's always some information to be gleaned. Listening helps with empathy, as well, my boy. Often humans, and frogs too, need to talk about something that saddens or is worrisome to them. If we don't listen deeply, we can fail to hear what they are saying and that means we fail to give them the emotional support they need. Instead of making it better for them, we can end up making it worse."
"Dharma, will you please tell me what it is that you asked about my family? I promise this time I will listen carefully." The wise old frog chuckled, "Tadpole, I asked if your family was excited that your father has been named City of Swamp's Business Frog of the Year." My eyes light up! "Oh Dharma, yes! The whole family is pleased and very proud. We've all been invited to attend the banquet in his honor. Thank you so much for asking. Since you also taught my dad, I know it'll mean a great deal to him that you were thoughtful enough to ask about his award. Oh, and Sir, I'm truly sorry I didn't hear you the first time. I'll try very hard not to let it happen again."
We can all learn to be better communicators, both in listening deeply and speaking clearly. Dharma always has the right lesson for me at exactly the right time."
I have a very special blog planned for tomorrow. It's so special that I'm not even going to give you a hint at what it's about. You'll just have to come back and find out for yourself. You won't be disappointed.
Until tomorrow, dear reader, I wish you a wonderful Wednesday.