“He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.” – Proverbs 18:13
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make any noise? Remember that little riddle? Let me ask it another way. If someone speaks and no one is listening, is that communication? A recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out that “plenty of programs teach people to speak – but few train them to listen.” If that’s the case, then “what we have here is a failure to communicate”, to quote from one of my favorite Paul Newman movies, “Cool Hand Luke”.
Like a mathematical equation, communication is incomplete without speaking and listening equaling each other. This imbalance is nothing new, of course; in fact it is probably as old as mankind itself. But perhaps it has become exaggerated in this age of electronic and social media that allows us to “speak” instantaneously to mass audiences any time we wish, which in turn creates an environment of everyone trying to speak at once and an ever increasing noise level to overcome in order to be heard. The screaming just becomes louder and louder in hopes someone will listen. The end result is that there is a world full of people begging for someone to just listen.
As an ICF certified coach I will attest that “active listening” is one of the core competencies that must be mastered in order to receive certification. So if the Wall Street Journal is correct our profession may be one of the few where listening skills are actually required and rigorously taught. What I’ve learned from practicing this profession over several years is that becoming a great communicator begins with being a great listener, that our attentiveness to another human being speaks much louder than our words.
So, allow me to restate the riddle. If someone speaks and no one is listening, is that communication? If the answer is “no” then based on my observations “what we have here is a failure to communicate.” And if that’s true, what’s missing in the equation, and what can you and I do to bring it into balance? Here’s a hint: there is a world full of people begging for someone to just listen.