I spent a number of years in an administrative role at an area hospital. My position was one with a lot of responsibility, and with that came hard conversations with senior leadership, physicians, service line directors, nurses, and ancillary staff.
My boss, Ed Castledine, was a source of wisdom for me in many tense scenarios and while I learned many lessons from him, four words he shared with me more than four years ago still echo in my brain. I recall prepping, with Ed, for a big meeting with a lot of decision makers. Tensions were high as a number of people were going to be affected by the outcome of the meeting. Ed paused our conversation as we prepared for different scenarios and said, “I learned a long time ago that often the best thing we can do in situations like these is shut up and listen.”
We went on discussing how our culture is plagued with people who listen to respond as opposed to those who listen to understand, and how we both were guilty of this.
Just a few days ago, I was sharing with a friend about some challenges. Before I had finished two sentences, he was offering me advice, telling me how I should navigate things.
“Did you hear what I just said?” I asked.
“Yeah. You said …” As he explained to me what he thought I had said, I told him he got about 50% of it right. The conversation continued and after several attempts to explain what was going on, and several interruptions of advice that were remarkably unhelpful, I gave up.
But the whole time, Ed’s words were ringing in my head, “Shut up and listen.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people respond to their children without actually listening to the words being said, or arguments between spouses flair because advice is offered prematurely (or offered when not asked for). Each is a case of listening to respond as opposed to listening to understand. The outcome always leads to frustration and resentment, and rightfully so. When we don’t listen to someone, when we don’t take the time to hear all their words, we tell them they aren’t important. When we think we have their story and problems figured, we reek of arrogance and entitlement.
I have been guilty of this many times, and not once has it led to what I would call a desired outcome.
Listening to understand is an art, it takes patience, it requires us to shut out distractions, it means we have to be fully present in the words and emotions being offered as opposed to being engaged in our thoughts or internal monologue.
So I have started a new practice. Anytime I am in a conversation with someone, I try to not say anything until either they ask for a response, or there is a pause in the conversation, and I ask, “Can I offer a few thoughts?”
Now let me be clear, I said “started”, which means this is pretty new, and I said “practice” which means I am trying. But by no means is this the norm… yet.
However, I do know that anytime we offer up advice without listening, it’s crappy advice. Without fail.
So I challenge you as I challenge myself, the next time someone is sharing with you, shut up and listen. Don’t respond till they ask you to, or until you have asked if you can offer some thoughts.
Two things will happen:
One, they will respect and appreciate the time you have given them, and two, you might find you actually have something valuable to offer.