Having the courage to listen

If it seems listening has become a hot topic among leadership experts, there’s good reason: We’re not very good at it.

We’re living in an age of noise, disagreement and distraction. Everyone, it seems – political pundits, sports commentators, social media users – is talking over one another. We’re so eager to make our point that we don’t allow others to make theirs.

If we do extend them the courtesy, oftentimes we’re not present. We’re busy thinking about what we’ll say next. Sometimes, we can’t even wait until they finish their point – the one we’re not hearing – because we’ve thought of another point, and we interrupt them to make it.

Our firm’s founder, Chuck Schnake, was a stickler for listening. And by listening, I don’t mean simply being quiet. Chuck was a proponent for understanding.

In reviewing his writings, I’m struck by the recurring themes. First is one of deeds – doing what’s right. Second is listening. Interesting that a communication firm established itself on deeds and listening. There’s very little in Chuck’s notes about talking and writing.

In a document he titled “The Care and Feeding of Clients,” Chuck wrote, “Ask questions. Learn the language of the business. Learn the business itself. Listen to answers. Study the persona – likes, dislikes, political leaning, family, food, religion.”

In another, called “The Heart of Public Relations Counseling,” he advises, “Listen. You can’t begin to help a client until you know where he or she is coming from, and the only way to find out is to ask questions and listen.”

Even for a man of his generation – born in 1931 – he was an advocate for technology. Early in the advent of social media, Chuck implored us to pay attention. He studied up on blogs and digital media breakthroughs. Chuck was one of the first in our firm to have a Twitter account. He understood the potential impact of a social media-driven world.

But I’m certain today, Chuck would admonish anyone who kept checking text messages, news alerts and Facebook status updates during a one-on-one conversation.

Last month our firm hosted the second Inclusion and Diversity Summit in Oklahoma City. On a day filled with wisdom, the words of one speaker, LaTricia Hill-Chandler of Arvest Bank, stand out:

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

It’s a lesson we all should hear.

Russ Florence is a partner at Schnake Turnbo Frank.