Learning to listen

We were desperately late on the way to taking my three kids (ages 12, 9, and 6) on the Block Island Ferry for the first time. I told them they could have all the candy they wanted if we just made it on the boat. They excitedly chanted “Team Adams! We got this!” But something happened on the race to the dock.

Team Adams was hot out of the gate. Bags slung over shoulders we easily crossed the busy street and started to run – unfortunately in the wrong direction. Efficiency gave way to uncertainty and Team Adams unraveled. As Team Leader, I looked forward and shifted course. Everyone followed and I was heartened to see my oldest and her sister close behind. We were going to make it after all. That is until my normally quiet middle daughter, from the middle of the pack, yelled, “DAD – GET JACK!” The boy had called to me to slow down, but I didn’t hear him. Running as fast as his little 6-year-old legs could, Jack still fell way behind. When I got to him, he had lost a flip flop and was so out of breath he could not even cry, let alone call out for me. I will never forget the silent terror in his eyes as I scooped him up and kept running. 

We made it on the boat, ate candy, endured only one minor case of sea sickness, and had a wonderful trip with Team Adams back in close formation.

It is often said that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Then why is it more difficult to listen than it is to talk? Instead of listening with open ears and focused mind, many of us begin crafting our response while we simply wait to speak. In that moment we stop seeking understanding and replace it with the search for an opportunity to persuade. One need only to look at the state of today’s political discourse to see this in action.

In the race to the dock, I didn’t listen to one team member, and another had to shout to get my attention. I shut my ears off because I mistakenly believed I fully understood the situation. I let the entire team down at the most critical moment because I stopped listening to them and listened only to myself. That is not the first time that has happened. 

Do you remember the last time your internal dialogue shut your ears down in the middle of a conversation? Chances are, the person who was speaking in that moment remembers it well. That is, unless you were each doing it at the same time. 

How do credit unions listen to their members? After all, we often say that giving members what they want is part of the credit union difference. If we’re not listening fully, how do we know if what they say is the same as what they truly want?  How do we make space to listen to the voice that is too quiet to be heard above the noise? How can we help those normally apprehensive members feel comfortable speaking without having to stir up the courage to shout? And how can we listen to the squeakiest wheel with enough attention to understand the real message by listening through the piercing squeak?

As we race through planning and budgeting to make it to the launch of a new year—or even just the next time we find ourselves in a political discussion—let’s take more opportunities to stop speaking and start listening … with both ears.

Bruce Adams

Bruce Adams

Bruce Adams is the President and CEO of the Credit Union League of Connecticut (CULCT). He assumed this role in 2019, after spending the bulk of his 15-year career as ... Web: https://www.culct.coop Details

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