Greenleaf writes: Most of us at one time or another, some of us a good deal of the time, would really like to communicate, really get through to a significant level of meaning in the hearer’s experience. It can be terribly important. The best test of whether we are communicating at this depth is to ask ourselves, first, are we really listening? Are we listening to the one we want to communicate to? [The Servant as Leader, circa 1969 p. 16]
I remember marking this passage years ago. I remember it because of Greenleaf’s ‘test.’ I expected, and I don’t think I am alone in this expectation, that he would offer something like this: ‘Are you clear in what you are saying?’ or ‘Is your message clear and concise?’ or something about being sure of the message you are delivering. But, no. Greenleaf offers that the best test is ‘are we really listening?’
I am the one delivering the message; the others should be trying to listen to me. Shouldn’t they? No. Greenleaf, once again, wants the speaker to ‘listen’ – in this case, to listen to the person who is receiving our message.
So I ask: What are the ways I might listen to the person who is supposed to be receiving my message? How can I listen in order to make sure that both of us understand; the listener understands me and I understand the listener?
Greenleaf is clear. Over and over and over again he counsels the servant (whether follower or leader – perhaps especially the leader) to listen, first.