Simply Listen

September 13, 2008

Quote of the Week


“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”                                                              Margaret J. Wheatley


If, as you read this quote, you experience relief, feel a weight being lifted from your shoulders, or even sense a glimmer of hope that the pressure to  solve the world’s problems could possibly disappear, this lesson is for you.


It is a nearly universal belief that when someone shares a problem or concern they are asking for help, seeking our wisdom, expecting a solution. This is especially true for us men. It seems that we are born with the fix-it gene (apparently located on the Y chromosome). There is no problem too small or large that we won’t attempt to solve. You ladies may not be aware of it, but we even have a slogan, “Have answers; will blurt them out.” I know it can be infuriating at times, but have pity, that’s just the way we’re wired.


I was fortunate that, in the early days of our relationship, my wife, Cheryl, was willing to take the time and effort to point out that my clever and insightful opinions were not always being requested or appreciated. That was hard to understand at first. Why would she tell me about a problem if not seeking my assistance? What possible benefit could be derived by having me just sit and listen? Wouldn’t an empty chair serve the same purpose?


What I discovered after repeated reminders was that being heard is a rare and powerful gift. As I experienced being listened to, I learned that most of the anxiety I experience around problems is released by the simple act of being heard. Once this magical gift is received, we are able to think more clearly, consider our options and solve our own problems. We feel nourished, worthy, even loved when another person cares enough to sit quietly as we pour out our doubts and fears; we feel respected when they trust our ability to discover our own solutions. 


As difficult as it may seem, the next time someone shares a problem or concern with you, sit quietly and listen intently. When they are finished, let them know that you hear and understand, ask questions if you need clarification, then be silent. If they are seeking your advice, allow them to ask for it. If not, don’t offer. Then notice the change in their state. Has their anger or anxiety abated, do they seem more relaxed, relieved? If so, this is their gift to you. Enjoy it.