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Listening is Close to Loving

Rebecca Emerson | Apr 23, 2019

I can listen. My business card says so.

There comes a fair amount of pressure leading a listening organization. Sure, there are normal workplace deadlines and to-do lists, but that kind of pressure is normal, routine, and to be expected for someone in the modern workplace. No, the pressure I’m describing comes from raising two independent young adults who know Mom’s passion, her heart, and what it says on her business card...and who then remind her of the words on her business card in the moments when she interrupts, has a sarcastic comment, or falls short of living as an example of empathetic listening or Truly Human Leadership.

My greatest audience lives in my home. With a son nearly through his freshman year of college, I’m learning to listen in a whole new way. Being patient and open while he discovers his own life philosophies, some of which are very different from my own, provides a constant reminder of our world’s need for empathy, care, and allowing both grace and space for other people to be fully human. And, if I expect that of others—if I lead an organization that teaches and touts that for others--I have full responsibility to make sure it is routinely displayed in my own practice.

Friends, sometimes it is hard. When my adult son has political or social views different from my own, sometimes I have to wait a beat, give it a pause, and remember the conversation is not about who is right or who is wrong, but about giving my son room to explore his own mind, his own heart, and his own place in the world. It is gently shepherding and guiding while flexing to meet his conventional behavior tendencies and need for perfection without letting my direct style and need for control squash his thought process.

He called me out on it the other night. “Mom, this isn’t an interrogation. You’re supposed to be using door openers and not firing question after question, drilling me for information.” Yikes. Caught in the act! In preparing for an 11-week trip he’s taking this summer with his college, I wanted to know details and satisfy my own need for information while he needed to know our relational connection is important. He needed to know that his mom is interested in meeting his needs for relationship instead of her own for deliverables. I needed to chill out and wait for the official email that will soon tell me all the details this Mom wants to know before her kid leaves the hemisphere.

Thankfully, instead of hearing “layoff on the interrogation, lady,” what I heard was, “Mom, I know I’m only home for a couple days this semester. Could we just spend time together and let me tell you what I’m excited about? Could you trust the process enough to enjoy my presence instead of letting this time be a to-do list, knowing you’ll get all the details in due time if you let me be heard?”

Leading a listening organization is tough work, folks. Not the teamwork, the events, the strategic planning and the program development. Nope, what’s hard is when my most important audience (individuals I raised to be free thinkers and to lead with love) says, “Hey, Mom, you’re not listening, and we want to be heard. Your business card says we should expect that of you.”

And they should. They can. They do. And I’m so glad, because this journey we’re on is an important one, my friends. Listening is close to loving, and for some people, they’re never able to tell the difference.

Listening, learning, leading beside you—

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