“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 business article I once read suggested that are “plenty of programs that 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.
The International Coach Federation (ICF), through which I am a Professional Certified Coach, considers “active listening” as one of the core competencies that must be mastered in order to receive certification. That has led me to wonder if our profession, assuming the business article I read is correct, is not one of the few where listening skills are actually required, thus rigorously taught. At the very least, what I’ve observed from practicing this profession over many years is that becoming a great communicator begins first of all by being an attentive listener, and that attentiveness often speaks much louder than 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. Otherwise, “He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.”