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Why practice listening?

Introduction

When Bria told me that she was pregnant, she surprised a smile out of me with a note that read “Time to practice. Get ready. August 2019.” She knew I’d smile because she knows how much I reference Allen Iverson’s disdain for practice like the image below when I encourage everyone I care about (family, friends, students, colleagues) to practice anything and everything they want to improve.

  • Want to improve your public speaking? Practice.
  • Want to improve your right hook? Practice.
  • Want to improve how you walk? Practice.
Don’t be like AI. Practice seriously. Unless you win the MVP award, then you can take a day off.

So it’s no surprise that I’d encourage you to practice listening better. “But” there’s a bigger reason — you don’t know when you’ll need to be a better listener. You don’t know what mental frame of mind you’ll be in – stressed, overworked, angry. You don’t know what physical condition you’ll be in – sick, tired, injured maybe. When you’re in the middle of an argument, it’s hard to create a strategy for listening better. When the love of your life says something painful to you, it’s almost impossible to not react, get angry, get sad, or walk away. But you can do it…with practice.

The Moment You’ll Wish You Practiced

If you watch my ‘Create the Space’ speech, you may remember the line that is the crux of the whole story from my wife.

“I love you with all my heart, but if we don’t have kids (I’ll still love you but) I’ll resent you too.”

My wife (saying the most important, courageous line of our lives)

You may hear laughter depending on which version of the speech you watch. I wasn’t laughing. She wasn’t laughing. It’s funny in retrospect because there’s a happy ending. But in the moment, it was hard to take. When one of my good friends saw the speech the first time, she said “Great speech but you have to explain how you got past ‘I’ll resent you’. Whoah, that was a doozy!”

Seven minutes isn’t enough time to entertain and explain how we got past that moment. First, give credit to my wife for delivering the most important statement of our lives in the most caring, loving manner possible. That’s a big deal. Unconditional love. They teach you a lot about that in fifteen years of Catholic school. It’s rare to see or hear or feel. I felt it. I felt that either way I have a choice. No pressure (okay, maybe a little). Make your decision.

The part of that conversation that doesn’t come across during the speech is how sick I was. Maybe sick isn’t the right word but I’d just come off a long course of anti-fungal drugs for a significant gut-yeast issue which was still healing, had double vision regularly for a brief stretch, and had two pints of blood taken in a week (bad idea in retrospect). That made my normal dizziness/lightheadedness worse, and even added some heart rate and rhythm issues.

Yeah…so why practice? Because you never know when the most important conversation of your life might come in the worst possible moment. We can’t control everything in life. We can prepare. All important relationships have difficult moments – better to be ready.

When I heard “if we don’t have a baby, I’ll resent you too”, I remember thinking “(this is when we’re having this conversation. really?)” Then I took a deep breath subduing my instinct to react, appreciated how hard it must have been to tell me something so hard and important so kindly, and said something to the effect of “Tell me more.” My mom, my genetics, twenty years of martial arts and meditation, and countless hours of learning during hard conversations at work and at home all prepared me for that moment.

In terms of hard conversations, having a kid isn’t the hardest for most people but I’m weird…and I like that about me. I really am pretty selfish with my time. I can be better about that. For you it might be a different conversation. You may not know when it’s coming. But when it does, I hope you’ve practiced. Yes, that’s what I’m talkin’ about. Practice.

Now read how to practice listening.