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We have two ears and one mouth. It is essential to consider what that could mean. I have learned that for me it signals that I could benefit from listening more than I talk. Not so easy for an extrovert! I used to talk a lot more, sharing my opinions and know it all insights, truths and pearls of wisdom (think criticisms). I was often just a smarty pants trying to look even smarter. Extraverts are often rewarded, especially in business settings.

Over the years I have come to learn that while the world can benefit from my voice, the how is even more important than the what. For example, when my daughter asks a question it is easy to “give an answer”. The hard part is considering what is underneath the question. What does she really need and what would she gain from further consideration of the question herself? In work settings if you are in a leadership role (kind of similar to a mom role sometimes), people get in the habit of coming to you for answers. It can seem easier & faster to just give them the answer, and get them on their merry way-out of your hair.

But not so fast, what does it do for you long term to be the answerer? Whether you are the leader, expert or mom in these situations, let’s consider what there might be to gain if we didn’t “give the answer” but instead met a question with a question, such as- Well, what do you think it is? What do you think could work? What could happen if you did that? How would you like it to go?

Re-learning how to interact differently, listening more & answering less, has been the saving grace of my life. I spent many years being the FKA (flipping know it all). It may have made me “look smart”, and felt faster, but it didn’t gain me much else. In fact, I would contend it did just the opposite, often pushing people away AND at the same time made them dependent, slowing me down in the long term.

Teaching ourselves to listen, really listen to what is underneath a question is a life skill that can create dialogue and discussion versus resistance and debate.

If you have been a parent, you likely know the road is always easier when the kid comes up with the idea or solution vs. the “I know best” prescription from a parent. It teaches them to think, consider, and reflect on what might work and why, vs. being spoon fed an answer. The questions I have found most powerful don’t start with Why, but start with What or How and are open ended, meaning they can’t be answered with yes or no or one word.  An example: How was your day? (closed) vs. Tell me some highlights of your day (open).

I had to give up looking smart, and being the expert to listen at work.  Then I had to give up being “super parent” and control at home.  I also had to give up my love of helping people solve problems at work, as a “consultant” coach.  I won’t kid you and say it happened overnight. It didn’t. I still slip.  But, the rewards I have found from listening more and then asking better questions, have made it so worth it. You can learn so much more and get so much further with this approach.

How and where can you try more listening this week?

An Unexpected Journey - book cover - Lori Severson

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