Sunday, May 22, 2011

Slow Down & Listen

A friend of mine, a gentleman my wife and I met while delivering Meals on Wheels, has a unique perspective on life, which he shares with me each time we are together.  I doubt he has any overt motive to impart lessons on me, but the fact that he's 94 years old means that by definition, he has wisdom to share with nearly everything he says.

Now, this isn't your average 94 year old.  He owns a cell phone, and he knows how to program numbers into it.  He drives his car around town to run errands and to eat at McDonalds.  And he still holds the record for the most touchdowns scored in a football game at the local high school (7 in 1934).

During one of our recent visits, my friend asked me if I had ever seen the ads on TV that say we need faster phone service and faster cable TV.  When I told him I had, his question to me was:  "Why?  Why do I need a faster phone or faster cable TV?  When I turn on my TV, it comes on.  When the phone rings and I answer "Hello", the person on the other end says "Hello" right back.  How much faster do I need?  Are people in that much of a hurry that they need to be able to talk before I have a chance to respond?"

As I thought about his comment, the deeper message in what he had said struck me.  Frequently, we are in too much of a hurry to listen to what others are saying.  We have a message we want to deliver and whatever else gets in our way, we're going to deliver it.  How often have you met somebody new only to  forget their name 30 seconds later because you were so focused on what YOU were going to say next?  How many sales people make customer presentations without ever asking the customer what it is they want or need?  How often do we tell employees what we want them to do, without taking the time to explain why?

We are so often in such a rush to tell people what we want to say that we don't slow down and listen to what is important to them.  Mobile communication technology has made this even more of an issue.  It is hard to really listen in 140 character messages.  But, that doesn't mean we can't.  Take the time to engage with others in real time.  Pick up the phone, schedule a meeting, take a walk or have lunch together.  And when you do, make sure you listen.  Whether it is a client, a co-worker, family member or friend, what should be important to you is what is important to them.

Thanks for listening.