LEAD BY LISTENING
by Hayne Steen, MAMFT
“I won’t care about how much you know until I know how much you care.”
Have you ever heard that phrase (above) before? This is wisdom that I have heard over and over again, emphasizing the importance of empathic listening.
As I have shared in previous newsletters, I got my start in youth ministry and have been fortunate enough to be mentored by some very wise men and women. This is just a sample of the kind of wisdom they would remind us of.
In those early days I don’t have a single memory of someone driving home the point that we needed more kids to show up to our events. I don’t recall anyone hyper-critiquing my talks or messages to ensure they were 100% theologically accurate or delivered with perfect diction. I don’t remember having a smoke machine or the best music. I certainly don’t remember having a multi-million dollar worship space. I do remember an emphasis on maintaining a healthy presence and listening compassionately.
There is nothing more nutritious to the soul than being listened to well.
What do I remember?
I’ll never forget the day our Young Life area director, Reid, invited me as a confused college kid to drive out to the local high school with him and visit with some kids during lunches. As we pulled into the parking lot of the high school, Reid confessed he was pretty nervous and really didn’t feel like going into lunches that day.
His vulnerability left a mark on me. His prayer was no different: “Father, we are nervously here to visit with some folks who You know and love. May they be attracted to You in us, nothing more.”
I was struck by this moment. Here was a man—a leader of leaders—authentically confessing his fear and weakness.
It would be Reid’s tears the following summer that struck me again. Just like the trip to the high school, Reid invited me to join him as a co-leader in his cabin of high school guys at Windy Gap.
Midweek sometime, Reid invited me to play disc golf with him to check in. Over several holes, he gently floated a handful of questions that I casually answered as we meandered from hole to hole.
I remember glancing over at Reid at one point and noticed that he was tearing up. So I inquired and he simply said, “Hayne, I am so, so sorry.”
My story and my pain were as common as the rain to me but Reid appeared to be listening beneath the surface. He risked allowing my pain to affect him.
What do I remember? In other words, what made Reid a good leader?
•He was really tuned in as a listener.
•He walked with me. He stayed nearby and allowed our conversation to be the centerpiece, not the game. We walked slowly.
•He was genuinely curious and his questions were laced with compassion.
•He reflected my own pain back to me and gave me permission to begin acknowledging my neediness.
•He did not offer advice or remedies…just his quiet and gentle presence.
•He hugged me with tears in his eyes.
•He gave me permission to cry over my own story…and the stories of others.
There is nothing more nutritious to the soul than being listened to well.
It angers and saddens me to remember how ferociously I chased the idols of event-making and crowd-gathering. In the fury and frenzy of crafting the latest greatest pop-up events, I literally raced right past kids in whose eyes I saw a hunger to be heard and known. I write this with tears in my eyes even now…I really wish I had possessed the awareness to do more listening.
There is this idea that the most influence will be made on a platform, standing in front of a large crowd with a mic in your hand… I’ll be super honest. I can’t remember what any youth leader ever said from the platform under any spotlight. Not a single sentence.
What would those kids (now adults) remember about what we offered them?
•Obnoxious program budgets?
•Random event promos and flyers?
•Packed parking lots?
•Stuffed youth rooms?
•Thousands of pieces of pizza?
None of these are bad or evil. And I know I did some listening in there along the way. Maybe even some good listening. I grieve not having done more of it. I mean…I feel like I should write letters of apology to former students for being so unavailable.
How To Be a Listener
There is a great book that every human should push to the top of their reading lists. It could even be called “Being Human 101.” The actual title is The Lost Art of Listening, and it’s written by Michael Nichols.
Let this wisdom land on you…
“When we attempt to listen we can impart to the speaker our unawareness of hearing them, by the shift of our the eyes, our glance away, letting our eyes glaze over, looking around, or interrupting them to speak to someone else. All of these signals leave the speaker knowing they have not been heard.
Not being heard limits our responsiveness in all areas of our living. We long to be understood by someone listening to and hearing us, with understanding and compassion. We become stronger when we are recognized. The simplest things can trigger a sense of rejection, even an unreturned phone call.”
Do you want to know something? Listening is good for others. It’s good for you too. Listening cultivates empathy in the listener. It provides a context for noticing. It catalyzes discovery. It promotes vulnerability. It helps eradicate shame.
Ed Dobson frames it up for us simply and beautifully. “It is one broken person talking to another broken person. And there is power in that.”
How To Lead as a Listener
Allow me to offer three simple suggestions:
1) Begin with one
There is no earthly way to listen effectively to more than one person at a time. Let that be a word of freedom. You don’t have to be superhuman. Live within your means and be with people one at a time…even in a crowd. Especially in a crowd.
Recently in a leader meeting with volunteer youth leaders, one middle-aged woman whose large heart for students could not be restrained spoke up…
“How do I offer this kind of empathic listening to the girls in our small group when there are as many as 40 girls showing up this year?”
I think you’ll see the answer slowly lift off the page. Begin. With. One.
2) Be yourself
When opportunities present themselves, avoid the temptation to be anyone other than who you really, really are. People can quickly sniff out a fraud. And they are quick to flock to someone who is willing to honest, open and vulnerable.
There is this idea that the most influence will be made on a platform, standing in front of a large crowd with a mic in your hand. I chased it for years. Like a dog chasing his own tail.
I’ll be super honest. I can’t remember what any leader ever said from the platform under any spotlight. Not a single sentence.
But I can tell you intimate details of moments when someone sat with me and simply listened. I can even remember what we talked about. I can remember their questions. I can remember the expression on their face. I can remember how it made me feel. Human. Normal. Loved.
3) Be there fully
When someone begins to speak with you…relax. Make eye contact. Be careful not to divert your eyes to more interesting things happening in the background. Lean into the conversation. Linger. Rest easy. Be grounded in that space.
A GROUP FOR GUYS
Every guy needs a TRIBE.
Dates: Start anytime for 16 consecutive weeks
Times: Thursdays @ 5:30-7:30pm
TRIBE is open to 10 men (18+ years old or older) at a time. We currently have one more seat available with a waiting list forming.
TRIBE is extremely affordable at just $35 per session with a financial commitment to 16 consecutive weeks. Group members may pay for the 10 weeks up front to receive a $60 discount or commit to pay $35 on a weekly basis.
How do I join? Email Hayne Steen to set up a phone consult.
*Individual therapy with Hayne is also available at normal practice rates.