Be radical

Do your homework and listen

After weeks on the road working with a variety of clients and listening to animated discussions/debates on the current state of things, I am struck once again by how much time people spend making noise that is devoid of meaning.

stategies-hear-listen-secret-shutterstock_137015690Maybe that’s not quite fair. There is meaning in what people say—it is important to them, after all—but exchanges too often leave participants unsatisfied, even frustrated. It’s the circular argument you continue to have with a friend or partner about money or loyalty or power. Each side knows the other’s point of view and judges it wrong. No new information is exchanged, no new thoughts enlighten a different dialog and nothing gets resolved beyond another airing of the issues.

Political noise is deafening again thanks to a circus-like presidential election in full swing. Debates over foreign and domestic policy, a raft of social issues, and the future of the country are worthy of deep and serious discussion; however, it doesn’t appear that anyone is interested in listening to a different point of view. It reminds me of a song written by Fred Neil in 1966 and famously performed by Harry Nilsson in 1969:

“Everybody’s talking at me
I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’
Only the echoes of my mind”

In the category of “old things that are new again,” those lyrics capture the present moment quite profoundly. Add the cyber chatter of social media and it’s no wonder we have forgotten how to listen, think, judge and decide. Who’s got time for all that?

So we retill old soil, fervently wishing for a more productive outcome. We bring new players to the table, rewrite talking points to make them more eloquent and persuasive, and convince ourselves that now is the time for real change.

Idealism and energy are helpful in making a new run at a persistent problem. Sometimes new words trigger new thoughts and new players can change group dynamics. But a new kind of homework needs to be done as well. Old arguments dressed in new outfits only serve to distract and frustrate.

With so much talk and so little action, how can anything possibly get better?

It’s a worthwhile question. Part of the solution may be to take a radically different approach. Stop talking. Stop trying to convince. Sit with people who have a different point of view and listen. Hear what they are saying without feeling a need to correct, redirect or respond. Feel the energy of the conversation. Watch interactions among people. If you feel compelled to say something, wait until they are finished and then share what you heard. “I heard” is sometimes very different from “you said.” It is important to note the difference.

This sitting with others and truly hearing their conversations is called doing your homework. Listening is a powerful act of respect if your motivation is to understand. If you are listening in order to gain material you can refute, you will sow disrespect and further discord. And your reputation may precede you. Be aware of that.

Last week, I was involved in a discussion about organized religion in which a friend stated that churches run big businesses and Sunday services are simply ongoing advertisements and propaganda to get members to contribute money. This viewpoint is disappointing to me personally, but I understand it. Because my friend has decided this is so and that he will not participate in such shakedown activities under the umbrella of religion, there is little I might say to change his mind. However, finding peace and happiness in the practice of my faith and support of my church show him that intelligent people can have very different ideas and still get along.

Some topics are considered too personal to discuss in polite company. Feelings run too deep, experiences are too real and disclosure of true beliefs is too dangerous. Perhaps that’s what keeps us all stuck.

Be a radical. Instead of trying to convince someone of how terrific you are, do your homework on their needs. Listen. Learn. Seek to understand.

-Susan A. Marshall is an author, speaker and the founder of Backbone Institute ( She can be reached at (262) 567-5983 or

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Susan Marshall is an author, speaker, and Founder of Backbone Institute, LLC, whose mission is to create a stronger, more confident future one person or team at a time. Her work over nearly 30 years with leaders in public and private sector industry, non-profit agencies, and public education is dedicated to building strong leaders who in turn create successful organizations, transform school systems, and develop leaders at all levels.

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