I was about 13 years old, and one evening I found myself sitting on a beach with my dad, and the then Mayor of Jacksonville Beach. Dad ran an amusement park on the boardwalk and was often the guy the local business owners and politicians came to for a listening ear. They called him Frenchy, and everyone who’d been at the beach long knew him. At that time, I worked at the boardwalk doing whatever had to be done from setting up milk bottles in the milk bottom (joint) game, to stocking and running errands.
My pay was 20 cents per week, and my hours were about 80 a week. I spent my paycheck in about 20 minutes and was broke the rest of the week. Of course, gas was three gallons for a dollar. Hamburger was 30 cents a pound, and a movie was a dime. Okay, I’m getting to the point.
This one evening, it was quiet and I was sitting between dad and the Mayor. For at least an hour, the Mayor talked continuously, rarely taking a breath. He poured out his woes to dad and discussed things he wouldn’t dare today. When it was all over, I remember him turning to dad and saying, “Thanks Frenchy, you’ve really helped me out.
I recalled my thought like it was yesterday because it’s stuck with me for life. You see, during the whole hour, my dad said absolutely nothing. Not a word beyond, “Okay, uh huh” and “Is that right?” The lesson I learned was simple.
Sometimes a listening ear is much more valuable than a working mouth.
The Mayor wasn’t looking for advice. What he wanted was simply to be heard, a sympathetic ear, a chance to get it off his chest to someone who wasn’t a threat or argumentative.
- Do you talk more than you listen?
- Do you try to win arguments by talking faster and louder than your opponent like on TV talk shows?
- Do you always demand the last word?
- Are you upset if you can’t bully your opponent into agreeing with you?
- Is the topic of all your conversations centered on you?
- Do you interrupt others in mid-sentence to make your point?
Yeah, I know, we’re all guilty with some or all of these. In my younger years, I was guilty of all of them. As I grew older, I learned to listen more and talk less, and maybe I’ll live long enough to perfect them all. Not likely.
Today would be a good day to start working on it because it’s impossible to be a good communicator without becoming a good listener. Try it!