When I was growing up, my father often reminded me that it was better to listen first and speak second. He always said that I would be able to make wiser, more informed decisions if I knew all the facts. I suppose he could tell that my personality was already bent to be quick to speak and slow to listen! He did what he could to encourage me in that area of my life. To illustrate, he often recounted what happened to him in a New York bank years ago.
One day my father went into a bank to transact some business. Before he left, he went to the bank teller to make a withdrawal. As he started away from the window, he was counting his money and noticed that the teller had mistakenly given him two extra $20 bills. My father turned back to her with a smile and said, “I believe you made a mistake.” Before he could say another word, she snapped, “Sir, I don’t make mistakes!” He was rather startled by her blunt, harsh reply. So, smiling politely, he answered, “Okay, but when you balance out your drawer this afternoon and are $40 short, I just want you to know that I have it.” Immediately her attitude changed and she apologized. He then gave her back the $40 and left the bank.
My father told me, “Robert, you never saw anyone change their tune so quickly as that woman did when I told her she had given me $40 too much!” He then went on to say how much better it would have been if she had listened to what he had to say before she responded so quickly and harshly. Now granted, my father perhaps could have said something other than, “I believe you made a mistake,” but it was not said in a harsh way; rather in a more humorous way. Evidently she did not think it was funny.
This matter of listening before we speak is not easy business. Most of us have an opinion on just about every topic you can imagine and we are fairly quick at sharing it, whether someone else has asked for it or not. I have discovered, however, that it is better to listen until a person is finished before we respond. As a matter of fact, when someone has finished speaking, I have also learned the great listening technique of asking, “Is there anything else?”
One night I was talking to someone on the phone who was going through a very difficult time in her ministry experience. I listened for thirty-five minutes without saying a word. I was so quiet that a couple of times she asked, “Are you still there?” I assured her that I was and that I was listening to every word she spoke. Although it was giving me a headache, I continued to listen because I really did care about her situation. When she finished, I softly said, “Is there anything else?” She continued for another five minutes, at the end of which I said, “Is there anything else?” She spoke for a few more minutes and I asked the question again to which she answered, “No, that’s everything.” I was able to give her a solution to the problem because I had listened to everything. I had even “squeezed it” to get the entire problem out so I could fully understand it. I had heard not only her words, but her heart, and I was able to offer encouragement and guidance.
That is what it means to listen. And, believe me, it does not come naturally; at least it doesn’t for me. I am still bent toward being quick to speak and slow to listen, but I have found it does not serve me, my friends, my business, my colleagues, or my co-workers well when I do that.
This week, why not take an inventory of your listening skills? Go out of your way to be quiet a little longer and listen a little more intently. And, why not try the technique I used by asking, “Is there anything else?” It will be amazing for you to discover that your listening skills can increase your productivity, your wisdom, and your ability to understand situations. It is not an easy process, but it is well worth the effort!
Tip: Be quick to hear and slow to speak!
Have a great week! God bless you!
Dr. Robert A. Rohm