Thursday, September 08, 2005

Listening Skills? - Checks - Bush - Katrina - Authority

During my 20 year career in management (which I left a decade ago thankfully), and also through various interpersonal training opportunities, one of the most emphasized skills necessary for success was lauded to be "learning to listen."

Thus, trainers un-numbered would teach(and still do teach) listening skill exercises such as: "Be interested". "Repeat back what they said." "Ask questions about what they said." etc etc.

The trainers only got it half right -- meaning they got it wrong. Listening to what you're about to say before you say it is equal if not more important than listening to what someone is saying to you.

Listening is the most important skill, but it's most important and enlightening to listen to what YOU have just said. Chances are you've blown it, demonstrated your total lack of empathy, humanity, understanding of the conditions/lives of your employees/family member/lover/neighbor... or citizen of a flooded state.

What we say is habitually based on our assumption that life for all is intrinsically like our own life and that everyone respects and likes us that way. Both are huge and incorrect assumptions that plow over the needs and sensitivities of those around us - or can effect us for good.

Here's some examples:
a) In one software company I worked for, the recently hired Director of IT (about 6 weeks with us) was handed his personal check in the hallway by the HR manager as she made her rounds to management. The IT Director accepted the check and laughed, saying (out loud), "What's this? Another check? I haven't even opened the last envelope yet." Dozens of nearby employees trying to afford the rent/food/child care/schooling on an every two week delivered paycheck heard "I'm making more dough than I need or can use." (The comment was even dumber if it wasn't true, don't you think?). If he'd listened to himself with sensitivity for the lives of others around him, he might have not made such a blunder.

b) When President Bush shows up for a quick tour of Katrina's devastation and says at the same press conference that: the FEMA Director is doing a good job (about whom all the press have shown timelines proving there was massive delays in response) ; followed by a statement that a (well- to- do) state official's home was completely - (he repeats) "completely destroyed too" and that he (Bush) looks forward to sitting on the rebuilt's house's porch, while he's in the midst of a region where tens of thousands of people are left with nothing, including no water for days...Well, let's just say there's a difference between the perspective of the person who said those things and the perspective of tens of thousands of displaced people, many of whom were living at the time in a New Orleans stadium where they were being raped, the toilets didn't work, and food and water were scarce and mothers feared their children would die. (Even if Bush didn't see this on his tour - and he couldn't have because he didn't go there - he could have watched it blaring from TV screens where the film made the destruction and anguish clear)

On the other hand, if President Bush had also mastered the art of listening to what others had to say -- he would have heard the painful cries for care, for sustenance and left his vacation earliar, released the military to help, air dropped water/food/medicine.

c) Here's an example courtesy of Barbara Bush (President's mother) : She stated on 9/5, in a segment at the top of the show American Public Media's Marketplace program (and numerous others) where she is on a tour of the Astrodome housing evacuees of Katrina that "Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to Houston." Then she added: "What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary (italics mine - ck), is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

Okay, so Barbara was probably taken back and not at her best, because she has never been surrounded by so many (thousands of) poor (or those whom she assumed had been poor before a hurricane destroyed their lives), much less black people, in her entire life (whom it must be stated weren't at their best either).

So, per her comments, Barbara's scared they all want to stay in Texas (her state), and (here it comes, are you listening?), these people had been so poor before that living jammed in a stadium with all their possessions gone, family members missing or dead, missing medicines, and wearing borrowed clothes, and having no idea how they are going to rebuild their lives, etc., is better than their lives before. She also was assuming that these bedraggled people had been destitute. Perhaps they just didn't think such massive disruption was possible, or that if they lived 20 miles or 60 miles inland that they'd have their lives turned upside down. But thousands inland have no homes, too.

Others hear Barbara saying that Barbara thinks all blacks are poor. Is it possible?

So, these are just three examples of how a person can fail to understand themselves (not to mention an outside situation) by failing to listen to the words we state that express our beliefs about others, and the scope of understanding of the immediate situations around us. We all do this. What do the words we voice reveal about us - and how do our words affect others?

The only authority that is worthy of being believed and followed is authority utilized for the well being and betterment of people's lives, society, and the world balance. Voice that,help create that, and you'll be fine - so will others.

Yours in Radical Peace,
Claire Krulikowski

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