"Listening is a magnetic and
strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones
we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and
expand."Karl A. Menniger
“Never miss a good chance to shut
We all know what an expert is,
don’t we? That’s a person who knows a lot and gets paid to deliver
brilliant answers. The essence of what they do is talk, right?
The so-called expert who can’t or
won’t listen well — regardless of how smart they are — is, more often than
·They give the wrong answer because they miss important
·They give the right answer to the wrong question.
·They give the right answer but their answer is
incomprehensible to the client, patient, or customer.
·They answer the obvious question but miss the real
·They give the right answer but miss the human
implications of both the question and the answer.
·They give the right answer but their advice isn’t
followed because clients, patients, or customers don’t trust them.
A real expert is an expert
A real expert realizes that the
quality of their answer is only as good as the quality of the information
they hear. A real expert knows that if they don’t hear the correct
question or the real question, their answer — even though correct — will be
largely worthless. A real expert recognizes that until clients,
patients, customers, or friends or colleagues who need
guidance feel listened to and understood, their answers will be suspect
and their recommendations will not be implemented.
Great listeners are far more likely
to be successful, whatever their profession. As Bernard Baruch said,
“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more
listening than talking.”
A real expert understands that when
they’re in the presence of a client, a patient, or a customer, there are
two experts in the room, not one. A real expert knows that to find the
best answers in today’s complex world, they must bring everyone’s
best thinking to bear on the issue at hand, not just their own. A real
expert has the temperament and the tools to do that.
A real expert practices what I call
Transformational listening goes
beyond listening for data, information, or knowledge; it is listening for
wisdom and insight. It goes beyond listening with the physical ears;
it is listening with ears of discernment.
Transformational listening is not a
set of techniques; it is a way of being with another person. It
is not based on some clever approach or device; it is based on the
deep-down way we see others and ourselves.
An outstanding example of a true
expert who practiced transformational listening in his work with clients
was Paul Laughlin. Paul was the bank trust officer in Hattiesburg,
Mississippi, who turned a conversation with Osceola McCarty, an 87-year-old
uneducated but generous washer woman, into a magnificent scholarship gift
to the University of Southern Mississippi.
Looking beyond her age, her
profession, her lack of education, the size of her bank account, and the
color of her skin, Paul listened to Osceola and saw a vision for her future
happiness and heard an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the
world. Only after applying his expertise as a listener did he deploy
his expertise in estate planning and charitable giving.
As a result, Paul not only
transformed Osceola’s life but he also dramatically changed the lives of an
entire university community, of dozens of future Mississippi school
teachers, and of untold numbers of philanthropists and their advisors who
have been inspired by this story. Generations yet unborn will be
blessed by Paul’s transformational listening.
Paul and I were once colleagues
working in the trust department of the same bank. If you were to talk
with Paul, you would discover a man of great humility, respect, and
curiosity. These attributes are essential for a transformational
The transformational listener is
HUMBLE. They see themselves as constantly open to new
understanding. They know that, as much as they already know, they
still have much to learn about the customer’s world. They understand
that careful, attentive, and appreciative listening both with their ears
and with their heart is the only way they will learn enough about their
customer’s world to become an expert in it.
The transformational listener is
RESPECTFUL. Regardless of the apparent disparity in age, education,
wealth, achievement, rank, status, or power, they see clients, patients,
customers, or friends or colleagues who need guidance, as fellow human
travelers, each with unique experiences and exceptional
brilliance. They acknowledge their clients’ strengths and talents, and
honor their life journey. They know that every person they meet has
something important to teach them.
The transformational listener is
CURIOUS. They can’t wait to discover what lies within the clients’ every
phrase or paragraph or silent pause. They are fascinated by where
their customers’ minds will go next, by what stories or insights will
spring forth from their thinking if they are listened to generously and
As Paul Laughlin showed, being a
real expert is first about listening and only then about speaking. It
is more about what we are presently learning than what we previously
knew. It is more about harnessing shared brilliance than showing off
as a solitary shooting star. It is more about a way of seeing others
and being with people than the mastery of a set of techniques.
Great listening is TRANSFORMATIONAL. It changes both the
one who’s speaking and the one who’s listening. And over time, it
changes the world.
“A man's life consists not in the
abundance of the things which he possesses." St. Luke 12:15
The question of “enough” permeates
our culture. My generation came of age with Mick Jagger’s raspy voice
telling us (wink, wink) that you can’t get no satisfaction from “how white
your shirts can be,” by smoking “the same cigarettes as me,” or by getting
plenty of “girlie action.”
Sadly, that message encouraged lots
of Baby Boomers to seek fulfillment the Rolling Stones’
way. Eventually, though, they discovered that even if you catch it,
you won’t find satisfaction if you’re chasing the wrong scent in the pursuit of happiness. It just
won’t be “enough.” They learned too late that there is never “enough”
in the accumulation of transitory pleasures or material
possessions. The truth is that “you can never get enough of what you
don’t need, because what you don’t need won’t satisfy you.” Dallin
It’s never been about how much we
own. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus summed it up eloquently:
“Not what we have but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.” A few
years ago, Sheryl Crow translated this centuries-old wisdom into clever
rock and roll lyrics.
I don't have digital;
I don't have diddly squat.
It's not having what you want;
It's wanting what you've got.
In a similar way, many of my
generation have found by sad experience that we don’t find “enough” by
competing with and comparing ourselves to others. Comparing another’s
possessions, another’s relationships, even another’s life, with ours
invariably gets in the way of enjoying and appreciating our own.
As long as the focus is comparative
and the answer is relative, we will never have enough. There will
always be another with more. There will always be someone with a
bigger, a faster, a newer, a more expensive, a more glamorous, a more
exotic . . . whatever.
When it comes to what’s most
important, life is not a zero-sum game. There are no quotas or limits
to the things that matter most. My joy and happiness do not take away
from yours, and your joy and happiness do not take away from mine. Whatever
wisdom and understanding I may have does not limit yours. My
peace and contentment do not diminish yours, nor do yours diminish mine.
No people on the face of the planet
or in the history of the world have ever come close to having as much as do
we 21st Century Americans. One of the dangers of our unprecedented
technology and material wealth is that it can blind us to the real
abundance in our lives. Too much “stuff” gets in the way of
recognizing and enjoying greater treasures.
I have learned that when we are
able to see further than physical possessions and earthly advantages, we
can comprehend that our abundance is truly beyond measure and potentially
infinite. We have enough, and to spare.
Michael Beckwith once spoke of a
virus even more insidious than Covid-19:
"There is a lie that acts like
a virus within the mind of humanity. And that lie is, ‘There’s not enough
good to go around. There’s lack and there’s limitation and there’s just not
enough.’ The truth is that there’s more than enough good to go around.
There are more than enough creative ideas. . . . There is more than
enough love. There’s more than enough joy. There is enough for
May we be inoculated against this
virus, and thus recognize the abundance that surrounds us. May we see
that, indeed, we have “enough.”