Shawn Henfling shares a lesson from his mother, one he heard but did not heed.
So what. I don’t care. Do what you want. Fine. Whatever. *SIGH* I guess. If you say so. What do they all have in common? Most of us use them to either settle an argument before it starts or to shut down a conversation we had no interest in being a part of anyway. Sometimes we say it to friends, spouses, even children. I’m certainly guilty of it. Here’s the problem with using these clichés as a strategy: If you don’t care to listen, how can you count on them to listen to you? Given a different perspective: How long will they continue to talk to you if you repeatedly use a shutdown strategy?
Listening is a skill we often never develop or leave behind as we grow older. We spend our childhoods hearing our parents say “LISTEN TO ME WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU!” As if you could do anything else while being yelled at. I’ve sat through countless seminars and sales training classes that espouse the benefits of listening to my customers. My ability to do so has allowed me to become successful and grow my sales numbers on a yearly basis. The gurus are right, it works. When you listen, people listen back. Respect given is respect earned.
Listening works so well in my professional life that it should have long since translated to my personal life, right? No, not by a wide margin. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized I wasn’t listening at all. Many moons ago, my mother gave me the single greatest piece of advice I could possibly receive. “Shawn, when a woman says to do something, LISTEN, say yes dear, and do what you want anyway.” To me, it sounded like permission to be an asshole. I was missing the point. I hadn’t listened.
The lesson wasn’t to ignore what everyone was telling me; though that’s the way I interpreted it for many years. Instead, she was trying to teach me that the simple act of listening fully to what someone has to say is sometimes all people want. At 37 years old, I’m finally realizing how much of a difference the shear act of shutting my mouth and opening my ears can make in life off the time clock.
My relationship with my wife, which has usually been good (aside from my battle with depression), has been better since learning how poorly I was at listening. I strive to listen fully, comprehend what she’s trying to say, and digest it before opening my mouth and saying something stupid. It doesn’t matter that I may not be interested in what happened at work or at school that day. I even ask questions now. Not only does it show I’m paying attention, but it shows that I’m interested. If she wants to talk about it, it’s important to her, and that makes it important to me.
My daughter, whose stories often meander like one of those vacuuming robots, often stopped talking to me. I’d tune her out, not because I didn’t care about her, but because I didn’t care about what she was saying. Sometimes, though I’m ashamed to admit it, I’d ask her whether this was a story I cared to hear. If it wasn’t, she’d just keep quiet. To me, it was mundane, but to her, it was a way of connecting her day with mine. It hasn’t been as easy to atone for my lackadaisical attitude towards conversation with her. Though I’m much better at listening, the damage was done. The truly important details are things she isn’t comfortable sharing with me, and I don’t blame her. To her, I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now.
In sales, the rule is to listen, ask pointed but open ended questions, listen some more, and make a recommendation. If you do care, the routine should be no different at home. Male or female, parent, spouse or child, you should always take time to listen and pause to digest. The simple act of listening will open lines of communication once closed as well as build new levels of respect. The other added benefit? It’s much easier to just say “yes dear” and do what you want anyway.
Photo Credit: Al Ibrahim