A couple were driving home and the wife mentioned that she talked to her brother that day. She said she was sad because her brother had confided that he was having a tough time at work and home. She was worried about him. The husband quickly started to solve the problem by suggesting how her brother should change and take charge of his life. After a while (with no response from the wife) he stopped talking. The husband knew the wife was now upset with him so he sheepishly asked what was wrong.
The same man was also unsure why he was having difficulty with his relationship with his son at work. His son was bright and the father was proud to have him consider taking a leadership position one day. But the son could be cranky and shut down around the father. The father knew the son needed more training and experience. When he first started working there, he would ask his father questions but now rarely talked with him unless the father requested a meeting. In those meetings the discussions always seemed to be tense and one-sided.
Both of those situations could be helped by one thing: the ability to listen better. Listening is such an important skill to hone, but too few actually actively practice. It seems unnatural in this day and age of emails, texts, and quick phone calls. Our minds are busy solving problems, thinking about the demands that life puts on us, and especially in a family business, receiving information from others through the lens that we have built up over the years. We get stuck in positions of defending, explaining, knowing what they’re going to say (but do we?), and solving their problems that we forget to listen.
Listening with patience and an open mind can create the type of thinking that is enormously creative, build trust among those who do not have it and enhance that of those who do, build self-confidence among those with none, and instill wonderment for those who do it. It is so hard to actively listen with patience and an open mind. There are so many demands on time that we get in the habit of responding quickly. If we take too much time to think we believe people will get impatient. We jump in and finish thoughts and take the conversation the way we view it. We solve their problems. After all, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do for the people we love?
For just today, try this:
- Pick one person and give yourself time to listen them.
- Actively try to hear every word that person says to you.
- Do not interrupt or answer until they are finished.
- Look at them during the entire time they are talking.
- Force your mind to not jump to what you think they’re going to say.
- Do not begin to formulate your response until they have stopped talking.
- Do not fix their problem, but ask a question instead.
The steps are basic, but hard to do with every conversation. Just for one day, with one person, practice the most crucial component to communication. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.