“Kids Say The Darndest Things” or How I Learned To Listen
by: Bob Dare
Take a trip with me to Wiesbaden Germany. The year is 1990; my Son, Matt, is a senior at HH Arnold High School. Matt has done well in school and has proved himself to be academically gifted. He is in receipt of a number of acceptance letters with scholarship offers. He is experiencing the angst associated with college, exacerbated by the fact that he will leave his “home”, return to the USA and be separated from his family by an ocean.
I came home from work one evening and as soon as I entered our quarters Matt approached me and indicated that he wanted to talk. I allowed him to complete a couple of sentences before I did a quick mental analysis and determined his “problem”, interrupted and began to provide him with “the” solution. I no sooner completed half of a sentence when Matt, in his big person voice commanded, “Shut Up Dad!” Shocked and caught off guard I began to consider my courses of action. Clearly this was a clean-cut case of insubordination and disrespect. Any good parent would not allow this behavior from a 17-year-old. Do I discipline… or do I obey?
As if anticipating my dilemma, in a calmer tone Matt spoke. “Dad, I don’t need you to solve anything for me. I will make my own decision. I just want you to listen for once and be a Dad instead of the Sergeant Major.”
I sat, looked Matt in the eyes and said, “Sorry Son, go ahead.” For the next 15 minutes or so I listened to what my Son had on his mind. When he had finished he came to me, gave me a hug and said, “Thanks for listening Dad, I love you”, and then went to his room.
I turned to my wife: “Karen, am I that bad?” She replied without hesitation, “I have tried to tell you for some time that you don’t listen. You are too quick to want to solve a problem, and many times people just want an ear. Not everyone is asking for your solution, especially when they haven’t even had the opportunity to say what they are trying to say.”
Guilty as charged I concluded. And, this was not the first time I had been told that I was too quick to speak. Change was needed and I committed myself to doing so. I stumbled many times and had to begin anew, and even to this day I still have to stop myself from wanting to offer my position or solution before the other person has completed their thought, but I am much improved thanks to a 17-year-old kid who had the courage to speak the truth.
I would imagine that many of you reading this story find it resonating. I do not think that it is always a case of maliciousness when we fail to listen. I think our intent is to help but we fail to take into account the need of the speaker to articulate his/her thoughts, and we fail to appreciate that sometimes others just want an ear. Listening is an art that is in search of artists. How often do disagreements occur, feelings get hurt or conflicts arise because of poor listening? The True Growth team strongly believes that it is never too late to change. If you are like me and want to improve your listening skills it is not too late to start. It requires discipline, empathy and thoughtfulness. Listening requires one to subordinate oneself to the other person and to refrain from formulating thoughts and responses until you have fully heard and understood the message.
The Fourteenth Dalai Lama said, “When you talk you are only repeating what you already know. If you listen, you may learn something new.” And, there is a great Native American proverb that says, “Listen or thy tongue may keep thee deaf.”
True Growth Takeaway:
Discipline yourself to truly listen when others are talking.
True Growth Journal Question:
Do I listen with the interest to “hear”? If not, what one behavior do you need to change to do so?
About the author: Bob Dare served 28 years in the United States Army. He held every noncommissioned officer leadership position culminating with his last three assignments as Command Sergeant Major for the 25th Infantry Division, United States Army Pacific Command and United States Army Forces Command. Bob is also an executive coach and facilitator for LWM III Consulting.