ANOTHER LESSON IN LISTENING

Avatar_DavidBentley Keeping one's mouth shut is not always easy. Continuing to listen while keeping one's mouth shut is even harder. You would think I would have learned these two lessons by the end of my fifth decade of life on this planet. Unfortunately, I seem to find it necessary to increase my experience with both of them – repeatedly. It happened, again, this week.

I was participating in a facilitated conversation about gaps in needed community services here in the islands. Those participating in the conversation came from different backgrounds, both personally and professionally. So we had a great deal of experience to share as well as the desire to share it profusely.

It was not hard to identify the good things that were happening in our community and where gaps existed. The difficulty arose when we were asked to identify the actions we could take to close the gaps we had identified. What I discovered is that in my zeal to share my perception of the underlying problem causing a gap in services, I was not listening to anyone else's interpretation of the problem. I was so focused on what I wanted to say next to convince them of my accurate appraisal of the situation that I didn't always hear what they were saying.

Meanwhile, other members of the group were doing the same thing. Rather than getting to any sort of solution, we were focused on the problem and making sure that other members of the group understood our interpretation of the problem. When our facilitator reminded us that our goal was to identify actions we could take to close the gaps, we realized that we didn't have enough information individually or collectively. So we decided one really important action to pursue would be to converse with those in need of services about what they really needed, instead of talking about what we thought they might need.

If we do have a conversation with a targeted group, I hope that I'll be able to listen attentively to what they have to say rather than thinking about how I'm going to respond.

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About David Bentley

Avatar_DavidBentleyDavid Bentley, M.Ed., is an avid observer of people, places and events. He uses his storytelling and questioning skills to help himself and others think outside the box in an ever-changing world.

Comments about his column can be sent to davidbentley@sanjuanislander.com

© 2014 David Bentley