Really Listening

“Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble.”  ~ Frank Tyger

Jordon Peterson has become a social media darling. A Canadian psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, his lectures and debates have been viewed by millions. Rule number nine of his latest book, “12 Rules for Life” is, “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.” I love the way he framed that rule. It is so true.

As a psychologist, I make my living listening to others. It’s hard work. With some clients I speak more, and with others I listen more. Since the 1960s we have stopped joining clubs and associations, see Bowling Alone
*. And, we know that a lot of people are lonely. Isolation is fatal. Seniors that have no one to talk to don’t thrive, many don’t even survive. So, we know listening is important.

“This would be the non-example of a good listener”

Most of the people I listen to need to talk, that’s why they are seeing me. They have a story they want to tell. As I listen, my challenge is not to create my own story too early. Instead, I need to just listen to what they are saying. It’s hard, so often the story is vague, confused, with no rhyme or reason. Who is this person? Do they even know who they are? I’m listening to see if I can help them in some small way. Change a behavior, build a new habit, think about something differently, set a tactical goal to get motivated, stop a self-destructive behavior. The list goes on. It all starts with listening. It’s not easy.

Why is it important to consider that you just might be able to learn something by listening to someone else? One of my best consulting visits was with a troubled manager. We went to lunch and I asked her, “What’s going on?” An hour later, the meal was over and so was her story. Her response to me on the way out, “This was the best help I have ever gotten from a consultant.” I don’t think I said 10 words in the whole hour. Try this listening thing out.

* Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”, by Robert D. Putnam