You talk too much, you even worry my pet
You just talk – talk too much!
John Lee Hooker’s lyrics made famous in a song by the 1960s R&B singer Joe Jones often resonate all too true for most of us. It’s been said that most people don’t listen to understand, they listen to reply. How often have you been in a conversation with someone, and as they’re telling you a story or relating an experience, the things that pop into your mind are what you’re going to tell them in response? “I heard this scraping noise when I was driving the other day, so I took it to the garage and they told me my brakes were wearing out.” Your thoughts, naturally, might be something like “I had to have my brakes replaced a few months ago too!”. This is a simplistic example of a potential exchange, but it illustrates the point: we all too often talk too much at others, but don’t usually engage the other person to draw out more of the story behind what they’re saying.
Listening first to understand is an important skill of anyone who works with others, especially those who supervise or counsel others. For adults in Scouting, this works on two levels. There’s our dealing with the Scouts. We really need to pay attention to what the Scouts are telling us and try to squelch our natural tendency to give them advice and direction. Clarke Green, in his recent podcasts and posts on ScoutmasterCG.com, has given us several examples of how the way we can best serve the boys is by listening and asking questions, putting the boys at ease and letting them tell their story without showing the usual adult reaction to evaluate and respond with advice. This is important not only for Scoutmasters, but for others who serve Scouts – committee members serving on a board of review, say, or even merit badge counselors, particularly for those interpersonal merit badges such as Family Life or Communication.
Second, we as adults, and particularly committee chairs, need to understand that we don’t have a corner on the talk market. It’s just as important to listen to others as it is to talk to them. I realize I’m guilty of talking too much myself, particularly in committee meetings, and try to make sure others have their say. The chair can’t possibly be an expert on everything – that’s why you have committee members who specialize in their individual position. Leadership and management consultant Art Petty writes in his Leadership Caffeine blog “If aliens were to secretly visit our planet…they might conclude that the ‘right to talk’ was reserved for the individual in charge.” Indeed, much of what passes for the management chain of command consists of managers passing down “wisdom” to their underlings without paying much attention to the rank-and-file. Petty offers some advice for bosses who are overly talkative:
- Listen harder to what others have to say
- Ask questions instead of issuing commands
- Asking for others’ opinions is a sign of respect
- Don’t jump in and fill in the pauses in conversation with the words you want others to say
And, Petty cites the old adage about how we have two ears but only one mouth so we should listen roughly in proportion.
So next time you’re in a situation when you’re leading a meeting or just discussing things with someone else, whether it’s a youth or another adult, stop and see if you catch yourself listening to formulate a reply, and try turning it into formulating more questions to better understand what the other person is saying. You’ll get better information than if you just fire back and everyone will benefit.
Image: Boians Cho Joo Yung / freedigitalphotos.net. Lyrics by John Lee Hooker ©Universal Music Publishing Group/EMI Music Publishing