My seventeen-year-old son reminded me of a powerful difference the other day, the difference between hearing and being heard, or rather the difference between hearing and listening.
I had something happen in my personal life that I was seeking understanding on. I spoke to several close business and personal friends and they gave me some great feedback, input and advice, all of which I took on board and all of which I valued and trusted. Then on the way home in the car, I called my son Noah to just check in on him. I found myself sharing the activities of the day and the challenge that I had faced. I outlined my situation–vented really. I talked about what had happened and how it was affecting me…then my son said the simplest, most amazing and profound thing I had heard all day:
“I am really sorry that happened to you Daddy, I know that must hurt. I can’t solve that for you, but I understand that it is difficult for you.”
In an instant, I had what I had been looking for all day.
When I talked to my friends and mentors, they had heard me but weren’t listening to me. They had spoken to the issue, advised me and I left those conversations glad that I had friends I could call, but still unsettled and upset by what had happened. At the end of the call with my son, the feeling was totally different, my boy had listened to me and had heard me. I didn’t need an answer to a situation that really can’t be answered by another, I realized I just needed to be heard. I wanted to know that there was someone in the universe who got me. They didn’t have to solve my situation, just understand that I had one and it was painful for me.
I wrote a simple piece of poetry under the pseudonym of the author for my book, No Working Title – a Life in Progress (it is my story about the impact of sexual abuse on men). It simply says, “I scream because I want to be seen.” When we feel we are not heard, when what we are saying or trying to say is falling on deaf ears, it leads to agitation, frustration and corrupted communication.
The major difference between hearing and listening is intent. Often, people who hear, their intent is to answer or solve, whereas people who are listening, their intent is to connect. I have come to believe that most people have the answers to their worst problems and issues within them. Hearing stifles their ability to bring those forward, whereas listening encourages them to examine themselves and search for the answers that lie within. Another way to put it is, if you let the tree bring forth its own fruit, it will be fruit that lasts.
I have taught this principle all over the world, written about it in my books, been told it is a great principle and has changed peoples’ understanding of communication and leadership…but to have your seventeen-year-old boy (who still calls me Daddy, and still kisses me hello and goodbye) use it as a natural, organic life skill….it makes me feel like “maybe I am making a difference.”