By Baylor Law Student, James Fryer
A recent class focused on the importance of active listening. One of our students, James Fryer, wrote about a transformative experience he had when his boss used active listening skills with him. We enjoyed reading it and thought you might too. – LWT & SLR
What do you mean, Mike?
My final year at the University of Oregon was one of my best years. I had finished my graduation requirements the spring before, so I was rounding out my undergraduate experience with a light-and-easy class schedule and a job as a Resident Assistant to pay for housing.
Oh, did I mention I had a girlfriend? I did, at least until one Friday night when she broke up with me. To salt the wound, I was also “on duty,” so I had to put on my happy face and patrol the residence hall. Continuing my bad luck, that night saw a half-dozen conduct violations, including a resident who decided to toss every toilet paper roll in the building in the dumpster as a zany prank. It was so late that it was early before I finished writing the required reports and fell asleep.
I awoke to a note my boss, Mike, slid under my door which said that I had not put enough effort into my reports from the night before and asked me to do a rewrite. I saw RED. He clearly didn’t have a clue how hard I had worked! After all, even though I had been dumped, I spent hours keeping the residents from breaking things when all I really wanted to do was feel sorry for myself! And he had the audacity to put a note under my door! He didn’t even have the nerve to talk to me about it!
Instead of meekly rewriting last night’s reports, I went to Mike’s office to have the conversation he was so obviously keen to avoid. His door was open, so I walked in brandishing the note.
“What do you want me to do with this?” I started.
Mike looked up, closed his laptop lid and didn’t respond. He didn’t respond long enough that I tried again.
“I wrote those reports last night and they are fine. You got the story; why do I have to rewrite something I already did?”
“What happened?” he responded.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, MIKE!” I replied, too loud.
“What happened, James?” he repeated, “something did….so SIT.” It wasn’t an offer; it was a command.
I sat. The pressure in my chest released slightly despite my efforts to stay mad.
“Give me the note,” he said.
When I handed it over to him, he held it over the recycling bin and let it drop.
“So,” he said, “What happened…?”
I broke and spent the next half-hour explaining to him everything else I had carried into his office that morning, along with the now-trashed note.
“Probably start there next time, eh?” Mike said once I was done. “But, I need you to rewrite those reports. Your writing was sloppy and rushed. I can’t use it. As for why I wrote the note? You had a late night and I thought you should be sleeping. That’s why I wrote you a note and didn’t knock on your door.”
I left Mike’s office in a haze. But I knew something extraordinary had happened. When I asked Mike about our conversation the next week, he said:
“You told me everything before you said anything, James.” He continued, “your face was red, your eyes wide, and you didn’t knock before you raised your voice at me… there was no way you were in my office about a note or rewriting a report. Sometimes,” he finished “you’ve got to listen with your eyes.”
Since that day, I have tried listening with my eyes. What a person says is so much more than words they choose. By actively and attentively listening with more than his ears, Mike understood my Saturday morning trip to his office had little to do with his note.
Active listening is a critical skill to develop because communication is inherently imperfect. No person can make themselves completely known to another; something is always lost between thoughts and words. However, by giving a person your full attention and listening with all your senses, you can be like Mike and understand a bit more than what is said.
I emailed Mike the rewritten reports that afternoon.