Sunday, March 2, 2014

A one word suggestion for improving your life? LISTEN.

  When I was a boy, I used to cut grass in the summers to make extra money. One of my clients was my father. On a pretty routine basis I'd cut the grass (what I thought I was hired to do) only to have my father dissect the job with his engineering mindset (I imagined him with a T-square examining the edges). In short, he was disappointed, and I was annoyed. 

   A classic case of poor agreement on expectations. To me "cut the grass" meant running the mower over the yard to reduce the general height of the lawn. To my father "cut the grass" meant running the mower over the yard until it looked like a putting green. Nobody was right or wrong. Just badly matched ideas of the job in question.

   I hadn't listened well, and he'd fallen short in explaining. Thus, the problem.

   That listening could fail so completely in such a rudimentary task is illustrative of the problems we all encounter in trying to foster meaningful clear communication. My use of lawn cutting is deliberate; many of our daily communications are on much more complex topics.

   This could be a complete book (and perhaps that's a thought) so let me outline a few suggestions:

   1) Listening requires more than remaining quiet. If you aren't positive you understand, even by a whisper of a hint, ask for clarification. 
   2) The more specific the communication, the less room for misunderstanding. Over- communicating is faster than reworking. (Even when lawn cutting!)
   3) Listening includes CULTURE.  Active listening is a CULTURE. A valuable one at that.
   4) Listening includes demonstrating your comprehension by using some of what you hear in your plans. Even if the information is marginal, the payback for using a suggestion is in opening the pipeline for future information and suggestions.

  5) Be sure you are truly open to ideas and comments. When people are busy calibrating their message to accommodate your "demanding personality", you may lose the point. 

  6) Remember, often the most important message is the one left unspoken.

   In the end, my father and I sorted things out. Once I understood clearly what he wanted, I increased my price 250%. After an initial hesitation he accepted. I got more spending money, and he got his putting green. 

   Listening is a profitable, sanity preserving, exercise that everyone should actively practice on a daily basis. Of course, listening isn't mandatory, but neither is success. 

PS - Tip of the hat to Tom Peters for getting me fired up about this. Thank you sir. 


  1. Hi Tim, I'm new to your blog having been led here by the above article, which is excellent! I couldn't agree more about the need for (and sadly-lacking frequency of!) listening. Clear verbal communication is absolutely vital to our existence, not only in business but in our day to day lives. So many problems arise from 2 parties not explaining clearly what they want/need/expect and your lawn-mowing story is a great example!!

  2. A simple yet elegant post. Say what?