“An essential part of true listening is the…temporary giving up or setting aside of one’s own prejudices…so as to experience…the speaker’s world from inside his shoes. True listening…involves a total acceptance of the other. Sensing this acceptance, the speaker will feel less and less vulnerable and more and more inclined to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind to the listener. As this happens, speaker and listener begin to appreciate each other more and more, and the duet dance of love is begun again.”~ Scott M.Peck, MD
The fear in his eyes stopped me cold. I was half his age and at least ten times more the experienced dancer. But the choreographer thought it would be a blast to invite husbands and boyfriends of the dancers to take part in an upcoming show. I had no idea how to help my partner overcome his belief that his two left feet would make a fool of him as well as bring me crashing down with him.
Never mind that he had no rhythm, he was in way over his head trying to understand how to count the music, remember the steps, and hold me right without stepping on my toes. He nearly bailed out a few times at the very first rehearsal. When I learned that he was being shamed into staying by his wife I knew I had my work cut out for me.
But we had a job to do and time was a waistin’.
Instead of a pep talk I asked him what was going on? How did he feel? Embarrassed., stupid, clumsy, and completely resistant to participating. I’d felt those things before, so I could relate.
So my goal was to make him look good.
“Don’t worry,” I told him, “One step at a time.”
I can’t deny that I was tempted to lead, but I knew that would have exacerbated the problem. I had to accept the performance he COULD give and enjoy it completely.
As soon as he felt understood, he relaxed and we started having fun. When he dropped me, tripped me, or forgot what we were doing we had a good laugh and started again. By the time the performance rolled around we were in sync and everything flowed. Nobody would have ever known he didn’t know what he was doing those first few days.
And in the end, he made ME look good. I didn’t expect that!
But back to listening and leadership and what it can mean for you.
Peter Nulty said, “Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable – and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.”
Our family, work, and play relationships are all like a “duet dance”. Aren’t they?
Isn’t it true that we can either approach each other with assumptions and prejudices that trip us up and never lead us to a rhythm that’s mutually beneficial, or we can slow down, ask some questions, and try to understand each other and agree to head toward a common goal?
Stephen Covey said it best in Habit #5 in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
I could tell you stories about my children who at 5 yrs-old started with “Don’t look at me!”, progressed to adolescence where they felt judged, misunderstood, and like the whole adult world was full of hypocrites, and at the magic age of 17 or so started wanting order in their lives and made sanctuaries out of disaster areas without any promptings from me.
I could tell you stories, but I won’t. I will tell you that I learned that there’s always more to what I was seeing. And once I understood, I was free – free of the frustrations, worry, and need to fix things that weren’t broken. And so were my children.
- Is taking time to understand someone’s behavior valuable to you in your family? Work place? Community?
- How has that worked for you?