By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy
Here’s a fun story that reminds us how significant active listening is as a leadership skill.
Panicking beneath the weight of his own guilt, the seven-year-old boy crashed to his knees in the dimly lit phone-booth-like structure and whispered nervously: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession.” The boy’s voice cracked with embarrassment before he blurted through the darkened window of the confessional: “Oh Father, I have sinned. I played with… (gulp)(gulp). Nuts …in my pants.”
The priest raised his eyebrows –and then his voice–before growling at the boy: “Son, you did what! The boy stammered: “Well, there was this pretty girl in my second grade class that I really liked,” his voice trailing off in embarrassment. “Yes, yes go on,” encouraged the priest.
The boy fidgeted back and forth on his knees, swallowed, took a deep breath and finally explained: “Well I wanted to make her a necklace. Out of chestnuts. You know. You drill a hole in the chestnut and then string them together to make a necklace.”
“Oh, Oh, “ acknowledged the priest in a comforting tone. But the boy heard the priest say “Uh- Oh,” in a more scolding tone. The youngster finally summoned his courage and blurted out his sin:
My Bulging Pants Pockets Exploded
“I was walking to church one morning when I stopped to fill my pants pockets with chestnuts that I found lying all over the ground. I still made it to church on time. But when I knelt down in the pew, my bulging pants pockets exploded with chestnuts all over the wooden bench. It sounded like Fourth-of-July firecrackers were exploding all over the church! Oh, Father I sinned.”
Yes the youngster did sin. He committed the sin of not really listening. The boy heard the scolding “uh-oh, uh-oh”, instead of a knowing “oh-oh?” And the priest sinned too. He committed the sin of jumping to a false assumption that he was hearing another X-rated confession.
I know I have sinned as a listener. Just ask my wife. It is too easy for my silence to give others a false impression that I am listening. I can easily see myself in that Blondie comic strip where Dagwood Bumstead sits down in the barber’s chair. The barber begins complaining about the world’s woes as he cuts Dagwood’s hair. Finally the barber asks Dagwood what he thinks of the barber’s lament. Dagwood confesses that he hasn’t been listening. “What,” exclaimed the barber! “Not listening? What did you come in here for? Indeed every speaker wants to be listened, understood and affirmed. Even the barber.
Audi Alterem Partem: Listen to the other side
I often find myself trading points of view rather than listening to the other’s viewpoint. I’m too busy having a “duel-logue” rather than a dialogue. I’m too focused on my own words to pay allegiance to the Latin proverb: Audi Alterem Partem, (Listen to the other side). I’m too focused on my what I know to learn anything new. No wonder poet Robert Frost cited exemplary listening skills as the thrust of an education. Frost said the power of education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.
I’m learning to be a better listener, an active listener, where I try to first restate the other person’s point of view before adding my own point of view. Then listening becomes more empathic, more personal, more poignant, more real. Even in the dark of a confessional. I look forward to reading your comments on how you work at becoming a more engaged listener.
Listen actively and guard against jumping to conclusions to keep your
your leadership thinking in mint condition.
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