Posted by: chrismaser | May 13, 2010


Although one may not think of it as such, listening is the other half of communication. Communication is a gift of ideas; therefore, another person can give you a gift of ideas through speaking only if you accept the gift through listening. The spoken word that falls on consciously “deaf ears” is like a drop of rain that evaporates before it reaches the Earth. “Intolerance of another’s ideas belies one’s faith in one’s cause,” as Mahatma Gandhi once said.

The watchword of listening is empathy, which means imaginative identification with, as opposed to judgment of, a person’s thoughts, feelings, life situation, and so on. The more a leader can empathize with a person, the more that person feels heard, the greater the bond of trust, and the better the leader understands the situation. This means, however, actively, consciously listening with a quiet, open mind, without forming a rebuttal while the other person is speaking. Such listening is an act of love, and anything short of it is an act of passive violence.

For example, the intent of a television program some years ago was to discuss the issue of ancient forests in the Pacific Northwest. An elderly lady on the program tried in vain to be heard, but the moderator consistently ignored her. Even after the program was off the air, she tried again to tell the moderator how she was feeling, but he continued to ignored her. In the end, just to be heard, perhaps only by herself, she spoke out loud to no one; she spoke into space. She may as well have been alone in the world.

Not listening is an act of violence because it is a purposeful way of invalidating the feelings—the very existence—of another person. Each of us needs to be heard and validated as a human being because sharing is the bond of relationship that makes us “real” to ourselves, nurtures trust, and gives us meaning in the greater context of our respective communities, society, and the universe at large. We simply cannot find meaning out of relationship with one another.

Therefore, only when a person has first been validated through listening as an act of love can that person really hear what a leader is saying. Only then can a leader share another’s truth. Only then can a leader’s gift of ideas touch receptive ears.

A leader cannot give their gift of leadership, however, if there is no one to receive it, if there is no one to hear. Therefore, if a leader listens—really listens—and validates the other person’s feelings (even if they don’t agree with what is said), they can begin to resolve differences within their constituency before the disparities become disputes. As such, their role as leader will be much easier, especially if they establishes clear boundaries.

Series on Leadership Challenges:

• The Challenges Of Leadership

• Dealing With Anxiety

• Use Of Power

• Criticism In The Form Of Projection

• Criticism And Your Image

• Being And Disclosing Yourself

• The Zen Of Perfection

• Honesty With Followers

• Understanding Silence

• Establishing Your Boundaries

• Dealing With The Uncommitted

• Accepting Slow Or Delayed Results

• Learning Your Limits

Text © by Chris Maser, 2010. All rights reserved.

Protected by Copyscape Web Copyright Protection

This article is excerpted from my 1998 book, Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. 235 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.

If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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