On forgiveness and permission, two ears and one mouth

I have my share of favorite sayings. For instance, I really like this one:

It’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.

I like it so much I also tend to live it in just about every aspect of my life. It makes me smile.

The other day I ran across a missive from Joe Tye (America’s Values Coach), that suggested a new perspective on my life philosophy. Simply translated:

Proceed until apprehended.

Oh, yeah. That really resonates. So I’m updating my philosophy, and from now on I’ll be proceeding until apprehended. I like the idea; it feels as though I’m adding a little more danger and excitement to my life. Like Star Trek’s new, young Scotty says in his lilting brogue, “I like this ship. It’s excitin’!”

Now, Joe Tye acknowledges that such a philosophy can improve operations (in this case, hospital operations) and enhance service, and he asks the question, “Might it also be inappropriate at times?

Well, sure. But isn’t that what we’re here for: to proceed, to make mistakes, and to learn from those misjudgments so we actually develop an innate sense that tells us when to move forward and when to hold? Life is, after all, a balancing act, and I hope to move through life learning its lessons and developing the smarts and the integrity to make great choices. I feel pretty certain I’ll be learning until I die.

Here’s another saying I discovered many years ago. It has no real redeeming value:

I have a drinking problem: two hands but only one mouth.

When I was younger, I ran across that tidbit splashed across a cotton t-shirt along with the image of a two-fisted drinker. Not being much of an imbiber myself, I still enjoyed the creativity of whatever right-brained person allowed the synapses to connect hands, mouth, and drinking into a pithy saying.

Well, there in the same Joe Tye missive was a new take on that, too!

We have two ears and one mouth; let this guide your proportion of listening and talking.

OK, I know. It’s not the same thing at all (no drinking’s involved), but like my new philosophy of intrigue, it also offered a proverbial head slap. This one is more problematic for me because, well, I like to talk.

In fact, as an extravert (I’m sneaking in some MBTI® lingo here), I know one cornerstone of my personality means I speak to think – I talk out loud, in other words. By talking, I clarify my thoughts. It’s a process. I’m used to it, but unless I issue a disclaimer it can get me into trouble with people who do just the opposite – think to speak, and who don’t realize the difference. These folks don’t generally issue spoken words and opinions until they’ve thought a situation through and reached a consensus – in their heads, not out loud, like my process. It’s like the old advertisement, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.” Mmm Hmm. E.F. Hutton was obviously an introvert, not an extravert. Otherwise, people would have let him talk for a while before seriously listening. I have to admit it gets really interesting when your significant other and you are opposites. Maybe I’ll tell you some stories one day.

Anyway, two ears and one mouth. That’s probably a good guide for the proportion of listening to talking, even for extraverts. Ever been engaged in a great discussion – or debate – only to realize you’re not really listening but preparing your next comment, as soon as the other person breathes? Ever hit a misunderstanding when you half listen to someone’s opinion and then discover, oops, you didn’t get the whole concept at the outset? Ever tune out someone who normally goes on and on and on with details until your eyes glaze over? (That’s a different MBTI clue, by the way.)

The point is this: listening is an art. Coaches are taught to develop listening skills that dive to a deep level, way past garden-variety listening skills we use daily. Think about it. In most conversations, you listen to the words other people say. “What you said was …” and “what I said, was …” It’s pretty superficial, and while that may be enough in some situations, it’s certainly not complete. When we take the time, however, to really listen at some deep, global level, we use not only our ears, but also our eyes, our senses, our intuition. We read verbals and nonverbals, nuances and emotions, atmosphere and delivery speed. We not only hear what’s said, we also hear what’s behind it, and what’s driving the other person. If we’re doing it right, we help to bring that into the light, because it’s important stuff.

I don’t think Joe Tye is suggesting we always listen at that level, although – wow! – imagine how amazingly intense and satisfying every conversation would be. I think what he’s encouraging is this:

If we listen more and talk less, we’ll have fewer arguments. We’ll have fewer misunderstandings. We’ll all feel like we’ve been heard. And, best of all, whenever we do talk, we’ll make fewer assumptions, fewer errors in judgment, and be slower to jump on the gossip bandwagon.

Now, THAT would be priceless. Proceed. Until apprehended, that is.

PS: It strikes me that this entire piece is a great example of extraverted “speaking to think,” inelegantly referred to a “brain dump.” I feel better. Sure hope you enjoyed it.

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