Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom - Learning What I Don't Know - Part Five

Part 5:  What Does it Mean to Really Listen?    
"When people talk, listen completely. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."
Ernest Hemingway


This 5-part series of articles began with this quote from Bill Nye, the Science Guy: "Every person you will ever meet knows something you don't."
In my quest to learn insight and understanding from others, I keep this image in mind: The people I meet possess a treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom about themselves, their lives, their loves, and their understanding of the world. They safeguard those valuables behind a heavy locked door. To open that door and access that wonderful cache of information requires three unique keys: authentic curiosity; thoughtful story-leading questions; and attentive, respectful listening.
I have found that good listening is hard work. Most of the time, what passes for listening is merely being quiet until it's our turn to speak. We tend to focus on how we will respond rather than on what they are saying. We tend to be WE centered rather than THEY centered.
In a post I wrote in June, I used this quote: "If you would sell what John Smith buys, you must see the world through John Smith's eyes." In this present context we need to paraphrase that old ditty: "If you would know what Bill Smith knows, your mind must go where his mind goes." In other words, we must listen so well that we begin to understand the unique and sometimes idiosyncratic workings of his brain.
"Going where his mind goes" requires what I call "Transformational Listening."   Transformational Listening means we give our full attention. We show with our countenance and our body language that we deeply want to hear them. We don't interrupt or compete or minimize or infantilize them in any way. We don't formulate our answer. We "just" listen. We savor every morsel of what they have to say. We are fascinated with where their mind is going and we wonder where it will go next.
I call it Transformational Listening because it changes the person we're listening to and it changes us. It literally makes each of us a better person. They are changed because this kind of listening says to them, "you matter." They thrive and grow as they bask in this nourishing, generative, affirming environment. We are changed because we can now see the world through their eyes. Once we have that perspective, we can never go back to being who we were before, nor would we want to.
A transformational listener embodies three essential attributes: He has humility, respect, and a drive to learn what he doesn't know.    
The transformational listener is humble. He sees himself as constantly open to new understanding. He knows that, as much as he already knows, he still has much to learn about the other person's world. He understands that careful, attentive, and appreciative listening both with his ears and with his heart is the only way he will learn enough about their world to become an expert in it.
The transformational listener is respectful. Regardless of any disparity in age, education, wealth, achievement, rank, status, or power, he sees others as fellow human travelers, each with unique experiences and exceptional brilliance. He acknowledges their strengths and talents, and honors their life journeys. He knows every person he meets has something important to teach him.
The transformational listener has a drive to learn what he doesn't know. He can't wait to discover what lies within the other person's next word or phrase or silent pause. He is fascinated by where their mind will go next, by what stories or insights will spring forth from their thinking if he listens generously and without interruption.
Listening in this way enables the other person to share what they uniquely know and enables us to learn from them what we didn't already know. We thus experience for ourselves the truth of Bill Nye's statement: "Every person you will ever meet knows something you don't."   

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Scott Farnsworth is an Attorney at Law and a Certified Financial Planner. He is the Founder and President of two companies: SunBridge, Inc. - An international advisory group for financial advisors and estate planning attorneys and Personal Asset Advisors - a Central Florida based retirement planning group. He is an expert on Social Security Maximization and Tax-Free Retirement. Feel free to email Scott at to help you with your needs.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom - Learning What I Don't Know - Part Four

Part 4:  Asking the Right Questions   

"I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who." 
Rudyard Kipling 


In my quest to learn insight and understanding from those I meet along the path of life, all of whom know something I don't, I have identified three essential steps:
  • First, I must be genuinely curious about what I don't already know.
  • Second, I must ask them the right questions.
  • Third, I must listen purposefully to their answers.
While there are many types of questions I might ask in order to learn what another person knows, the questions best suited to this task are what I call "story-leading questions." "Story-leading questions" are inquiries that open the door to a narrative. A good story-leading question invites the other person to recall and share a little bit of their life-experience, and it is in those accounts that I can most readily learn what I don't know.
Story is our native language as human beings. Woven within the stories we tell about ourselves is valuable information about who we are and how we see the world around us.
Everyone has a story to tell; they just need an invitation. Thoughtful story-leading questions invite sharing. They express an authentic interest in the life of another. Like matches and kindling on a cool evening, they ignite a warm, crackling exchange of information, knowledge, and wisdom.
Most of us already use story-leading questions but are often not mindful of them. When we use them intentionally, we begin to learn things from others we never knew before.
Want proof? Here's an experiment you can try. This evening, ask someone this simple story-leading question:
"What's the most interesting thing that happened to you today?"
Or ask a young parent: "What has your child learned to say or do lately?"
Or ask a child: "What's something you like to do that makes you happy?"
Or ask an older person: "What's happening with your grandchildren?"
Or ask a friend: "What have you been up to since the last time we talked?"
Listen to their answer, and ask another question, and then another. In the stories that will come tumbling out, you will begin to learn many things you didn't already know. If you listen with purpose, you will find great treasures of wisdom and understanding.
In my next article, the last on this topic, I'll talk about how purposeful listening helps us learn what we don't already know.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom - A Thought for Thanksgiving


"Let our lives be full of both thanks and giving."
Lindsay Letters




Offering thanks is tonic for the soul. Expressing gratitude, especially enjoying and appreciating our abundance, creates greater abundance. According to Yogi Bhajan, "Gratitude is the open door to abundance." Cathy Phillips added that, "Gratitude will open your heart as well."
When I stop to count the many blessings God has given me, I discover I have plenty and to spare. When I express appreciation to others for all the goodness they add to my life, I find I am surrounded with love, acceptance, and kindness. The act of being thankful produces abundance. It changes us and changes the world around us.
"Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow." Melody Beattie

Thoughtful giving makes a person come alive and develops more substance in the giver. Thus those who give are more likely to "find themselves" because there is more to be found. Deep and lasting joy comes from giving and sharing. The sweet and ironic arithmetic of mindful giving is that both the giver and the receiver are added to and edified by the process.
I find great satisfaction in sharing my time and expertise in the art of tracing life's journeys. I love to teach others how to explore their family tree and preserve their family traditions and legends. I love to offer a listening ear to those who have meaningful stories to tell (don't we all?). I love to hear them describe their challenges and their triumphs, their tears and their laughter, their nights of darkness and their seasons of sunshine. My own life is richer when I learn about theirs.
Giving is living. The generative, life-enhancing power of giving renews us and invigorates us whether we share our time, talents, compassion, or money. If we give from the heart - regardless of what we give - the very act of giving blesses us in magical ways.

The happiest people I know consistently give of themselves and express gratitude for their blessings. Their lives are full of both thanks and giving. In so doing, they discover that their own needs are abundantly met and their joy is full.

This year, I hope your Thanks/Giving includes plenty of both.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom - Learning What I Don't Know - Part Three

Part Three:  The Magic of Curiosity  

"I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity."

Eleanor Roosevelt



To recap my two previous articles, I have determined that every person I meet has something to teach me, and I have identified three essential ingredients for learning from them what life's journey has taught them:
  • First, I must be genuinely curious.
  • Second, I must ask the right questions.
  • Third, I must listen purposefully to the answers.

I spent time this past weekend with all eight of my grandchildren, ages 17 years to 21 months. I saw in them an unfettered wonder about how things work. Their boundless curiosity (not to mention their unflagging energy) opened wide vistas of learning and discovery for them. They delighted in figuring out the world around them.


Even though we're older, we adults can develop that same level of wonder for how people work and what they know. We can cultivate a fascination for the places they've been, the challenges they've faced, and the insights they've acquired. We can begin to see this amazing world through another's eyes.
Curiosity also builds relationships. When we express respectful interest in what others have learned and accomplished, we develop a bond with them. Nearly everyone we meet yearns to be understood, so they naturally gravitate toward that person who seeks to know them better. Financial authors Scott West and Mitch Anthony have written, "Curiosity may kill cats but for people, the abundance of curiosity gives life to relationships." This human-to-human connection is one of the most joyful parts of learning from others.
Once we're on this path of curiosity, we need to learn how to ask great questions and how to listen effectively.

To be continued after Thanksgiving . . .