LISTEN AND LISTEN FIRST, PART I. . .

Why is there so little listening? –R.K. Greenleaf
Listen, first, in order to understand. –R.K. Greenleaf

Greenleaf was clear.  The Servant chooses to listen and to listen, first.  He begins his reflection on listening with a question: Why is there so little listening?  And he concludes it with another question: When you speak, how will that improve on the silence?

For more than 45 years now I have been helping individuals develop their leader-capacities.  Consider, Gentle Reader, that there are two types of leaders: Role-defined and Situational (for example, the CEO is a leader ‘by role’ and the person who steps in and takes the lead is often a leader ‘by situation’).

Both types need to develop or develop more fully their capacity to listen and, more importantly, to develop or develop more fully their capacity to listen, first, especially to develop or develop more fully their capacity to listen first in order to understand.

This morning, Gentle Reader, I am going to reflect a bit on Greenleaf’s first question: Why is there so little listening?  My focus will be on ‘leaders’ (role-defined and situational); what I offer, however, can be considered by any of us, no matter our role or situation.

First, I am not talking about the skill-ability to listen.  We have all developed this skill-ability to listen by the time we are five years old.  I am talking about our capacity to listen.  Each of us can develop or develop more fully our capacity to listen.  We already have the skill-ability.

Consider: There is little listening because we have not developed or developed more fully our capacity to listen, to listen first and to listen first in order to understand.

Why do leaders neglect their capacity development when it comes to listening, to listening first and to listening first in order to understand?

Consider: ‘Habit.’  Aristotle noted a few thousand years ago that we become our habits.  Our listening ‘habits’ are reinforced every time we experience high anxiety, high stress, and when we become fear-full.  When these occur we fall back on our default habits of listening – or not listening.  This ‘fall-back’ reinforces our ‘habits’ and, as we know, ‘habits’ are not easy to change.

Consider: As a society (think: United States) we are addicted to speed; we are suffering from what Kundera calls the ‘hurry sickness.’  ‘Speed’ and ‘hurrying’ are anti-listening.

Consider: We are a society that is ‘action-oriented’.  Listening in these three ways requires us to develop and integrate the discipline of reflection.  This discipline requires that we stop, step-back and invest the time in developing the discipline.

Consider: We have not developed, or developed more fully, our capacity to listen with undefended receptivity.  Too often we believe that if I ‘receive’ then I must ‘agree.’  By the by, Gentle Reader, the same holds true for ‘understanding;’ too often we resist ‘seeking to understand’ because we equate ‘understanding’ with ‘agreement.’  This is a carry-over from when we were children and we would say to our parents, ‘You really don’t understand!’  Meaning, as we know, that if you did truly understand then you would agree with me.

Consider: We do not listen first in order to understand.  There are many reasons why we do not develop this capacity – here are a two of them: Seeking to understand takes time and we are suffering from a ‘hurry sickness.’  Seeking to understand means that I must develop, or develop more fully, my capacity for inquiry for we are not very adept at asking questions.  Leaders are not adept at asking questions from a place of not knowing, for example.

There are other ‘Considerations’ but these will have to suffice for now.

Reflection plus Experience is the learning. –Charles Handy
When you speak, how will that improve on the silence? –R.K. Greenleaf

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