As a baby you are taught how to speak. When you are in grade school you are taught to spell. In higher education you are taught to write but when are we taught to listen? Listening can be incredibly difficult but it is the most important part of the communication process. 

Let’s start with a story.

During a particularly hard day of work, Tom walked up to his boss and told him that he had a headache. A headache so bad, that he did not feel functional and had asked to go home. His boss looked at him and said, 

“I used to get headaches all the time but my wife got me on this peppermint essential oil and here, give it a shot! Now you don’t have to go home and can get back to work.”

Dang, he thought to himself. Could he share with him the reasons behind the headache? Could he be vulnerable about the health issues he was enduring? Would his boss believe him when he tried to share? Tom did not feel well at all and should not have stayed but in the moment felt uncomfortable advocating for himself. 

“While I am glad that peppermint works for you” Tom said, “Unfortunately I have been dealing with these headaches my whole life and the only thing that helps is sleep.” 

A nap… the boss thinks, this kid just wants to leave and take a nap? If I have to work through headaches, so does he.

“Tom, we are so short staffed today. I really would like for you to stay and continue to operate the forklift. You mentioned last week you wanted more hours, but now you want to go home? No!” 

The frustration in Tom’s voice continued, aching on.

“Ok, I will stay.” 

Later that day, Tom’s headache grew to such a point that he became dizzy and was seeing spots. He returned to his boss’s office and said, 

“I can not continue. It has grown to a point where I can’t see or think straight. I must go home now.” 

This left Tom in danger as he traveled home. This left Tom’s co-workers in danger as he worked around them operating heavy machinery while unwell. This put the company at risk with liability. There was a lot of risk here, yet Tom’s boss did not know or really understand any of it. Why? Because he skipped the part of the conversation where he made a conscious choice to listen to him.

He made assumptions based on his own experiences and knowledge. He did not ask Tom for more details. He did not ask if he had tried essential oils or regular medication. He did not ask Tom about how and why the headache started nor how he could help his employee. He did not understand the severity of the conversation and his actions were a direct result of not having enough information to properly communicate to Tom.  His solution –  prescribe without first, understanding.  That left Tom in a horrible position. 

Asking questions and intentionally listening to allow people the opportunity to share is so important! Without this foundation, you are limited in your ability to make suggestions or prescribe anything. Inquire with empathy, ask the right questions and seek to understand first.  If Tom’s boss navigated that conversation differently, he would have had a much better ground to support the needs of his employee.

In any circumstance you find yourself in; with your boss, your spouse  or your child – you are in control of how much knowledge you obtain and how you choose to react or action this knowledge.  More often than not, it requires more than just a quick, “I feel you – If it were me’ and now its’ fixed.  The power of the choice to listen will always be more impactful than the words that come without it.

Listen to understand. Understand to help. Help to speak. Skipping it does not do you any favours. 

When we truly listen and understand others we are offered the unique opportunity to meet them where they need to be met! Perhaps Tom struggles greatly with migraines but genuinely wanted to continue working. Perhaps there are other duties he could have been assigned, maybe all Tom needed was an hour of rest in his car to come back ready to work again.

Communication can be hard, but without listening it is even harder.  Take the time to stop and ask yourself, “If this were me – what would I need right now?”  Chances are it’s not advice or tips and tricks for a speedy recovery – it is the need to be heard. You may be thinking to yourself right about now, I still have needs that need to be met too and yes, there is a space for that as well. When you Take the initiative to truly listen to the people you communicate with on a regular basis it is much easier to come to a mutually beneficial conclusion.