I Cannot Hear You

“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.” Henri J. M. Nouween

“Ear fungus,” he says. Just the sound of these two words, when put together, is unpleasant. This is the physician’s diagnosis after examining my ears for less than 30 seconds.  My ‘every-seven-year cerumen impaction issue (earwax)’ is more serious this time.

Now two weeks later, the condition has resolved, and I am in a really good mood!   Just as I arise from the chair ready to leave, my doctor states: “I want to do a hearing test on you.”

I immediately feel a little uneasy. What about all the times in the past I have asked people to repeat something they had just said to me? What about the hearing problems my dad and grandfather experienced in their senior years of life? They eventually needed hearing aids (which often did not work very well).  I think about the times my wife has complained about my not hearing what she was saying.  These thoughts are running through my mind while the doctor is explaining the hearing test.  I am not listening to his words – my focus is on all the interminable negative thoughts racing through my mind.

Did I have a hearing problem? Was I now going to have to face the truth about something I had worried about? How would others perceive me if I sported a dreaded hearing device?  My momentary good mood has now soured.

Mentioning to the doctor that I have had some auditory difficulties when in a noisy room, I accept that I probably do need the hearing test. However, he quickly dispels the probability that my current problem is hearing-related.  Some folks just have a tougher time separating out one sound to focus on and wholly grasp. The doctor notes that our ears will receive all occurring sounds.  But the individual will choose on what to place their focus. We ‘choose’ (select) more than just ‘hear,’ since we are probably going to physically hear everything said to us. We are choosing to listen and that is the notable difference. At this moment, this is a truth I genuinely want to embrace.

The clinical hearing test is amazingly very easy. In the soundproof booth, I raise my hand when a tone is detected. (Obviously, if you do not hear a sound, you do not raise your hand), and you do not know until the end of the test the positive or negative results (how often you did not raise your hand).

My discontent at the thought of needing a hearing aid creates even more angst as I return to the doctor’s exam room. I am more worried about aesthetic appearances (and perceptions) than about the actual medical issue. Am I ready for the test results? I think not! This may be one of those times I really want to have a hearing problem.

“Rob, you have great hearing.” Wow! Did I ‘hear’ that right?! “If you take care of your ears, you may never need hearing aids,” he continues. Ecstatic! I cannot ‘believe my ears,’ which are indeed the instruments transmitting the good news to my brain.

As soon as I get home, I share the good news with my wife. Because I love drama, my brief discourse begins this way: “Dear, the good news is that my ear infection has cleared up . . . AND. . . And you will not believe what else he told me!” Very much the curious sort, Carol quickly asks, “What?” and repeats the question again before I can answer. With a mammoth smile on my face, I exclaim, “I have great hearing!”

It’s always interesting how my wife and I can see good news in different ways. I am excited about the ‘no-hearing-aids-look.’ Her happiness is not based on aesthetics. She reminds me that this is a clear indication that I truly have selective hearing. (Uh-oh!) In her typical direct manner, Carol responds: “You do not listen to me. You hear me but do not listen.” Bam!  Right on the forehead! Right between the eyes!

Where, oh where are my dad and grandfather when I need them?! I always relied on their issues to give me ‘cover’ in the past. My wife knew in intimate, great detail about the hearing problems of the senior patriarchs of my family (and because I had reminded her thousands of times). It had been my favorite ‘baggage’ to carry. I am now standing completely vulnerable on this subject. I have been exposed. (Thanks, Doctor)!

This significant occurrence inspires me to give the subject of listening some serious thought. I have a friend who is a great listener. He has achieved remarkable success within his organization, in large part because he listens. I always feel better after I have spent even five minutes talking with him.  My confidence soars. My attitude becomes better. All because he listens.

Folks who help us to have a better opinion of ourselves are probably those with whom we want to spend more time. We gravitate to them.  We actually want to hear what they have to say.  Their special gift of listening becomes what they teach by example.  Because these people listen, their message becomes one we want to hear. Listeners become better leaders.

If you want to do one thing, right now, to enhance and expand your leadership . . . listen. Spend time with the people with whom you have a significant relationship, listening more to what they have to tell you.

Is there a better way to do this? Yes, absolutely!  Start using one of the most valuable tools you will ever have in your ‘principles of life’ toolbox. Ask the right questions – then listen.

In John Maxwell’s book, Relationships 101, he teaches, “treat every person as if he or she were the most important person in the world.” I would add another vision to enhance this one . . . “There are no small moments.”

If we greet each moment as really significant, and each person as the most important in our world, we are probably going to reap huge benefits for those surrounding us and for ourselves.

There are a multitude of books written about leadership. Most of them contain a chapter on the important subject of listening. I admit that I need to work more on this attribute, and appreciate the fact that indeed, I do recognize these truths.

I have excellent hearing. I am now working on excellent listening.

Is now the time to get a listening checkup?

Today, I can hear. Today, I will listen.