Wednesday, March 17, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: I'm All Ears - The Expert Listener



"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 up.” Will Rogers


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 not, useless:

 ·    They give the wrong answer because they miss important information.

·     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 question.

·    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 listener. 

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.”

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 listener.  

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 without interruption.

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.


Wednesday, March 3, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Enough for Everyone




“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 Oaks.

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 everyone."

May we be inoculated against this virus, and thus recognize the abundance that surrounds us. May we see that, indeed, we have “enough.”