“How to Listen for the Real Message”- Lesson Learned from My Mother

The most terrific woman I know is my mother. Her advice over the years has helped me avoid many problems. As embarrassing as this is to admit, I missed out on many years of my mom’s wonderful advice. Why? Because I was missing the real message behind her words.

My mother, by her own admission, can be somewhat negative. If I say things are going great, she might ask, “But are you prepared for the future?” Even though I run my own business, she reminds me almost every year that April 15 is tax day. There are many things I am likely to forget, but tax day is not one of them. If there is a possible negative outcome to any situation, my mother can usually predict it and advise me accordingly.

Unfortunately, for years I took her words as a form of disrespect. I thought her negativity and her tendency to play devil’s advocate were signs that she thought I was incapable of doing things right and that she had little faith in my business acumen or my instincts for survival. I reasoned that if she really respected me, she would not be the voice of doom.

Things changed one day when I was attending a seminar. The speaker reminded us not to get caught up in the words people say but to listen for the true message they are trying to convey. At that moment, the light bulb went on. My mother was talking to me in this way because she cared about me, not because she had no faith in me or my skills! Voicing her worries was her way of expressing her love and protectiveness for me; it was not a form of disrespect. Suddenly, I got it.

I vowed from that moment forward to hear the real message my mom was trying to communicate and to be patient with her. She may use words that sound negative, but now I view her worries and warnings as an expression of love. She is simply trying to contribute and point out things that she perceives as helpful.

Of course, as soon as I really started to listen to my mom, I realized how smart and wise she is. She has subsequently saved me on many occasions by pointing out things I would otherwise have overlooked because of my ceaseless optimism.

Are you missing anyone’s real message? A client’s? A co-worker’s? A friend’s?

Let’s take a work example. When someone complains to you, do you hear just the complaints, or do you take time to recognize the impetus behind the complaints? Perhaps the complainer is not actually trying to be difficult. Perhaps the complainer just wants to be noticed and appreciated for the work they are doing. Or perhaps the complainer is dedicated to the job and wants to excel. Maybe the complainer feels frustrated by a lack of resources and may think it is helpful to point out insufficiencies. Some complainers lack the skill or self-confidence to ask for what they really need. They complain, hoping that others will get the hint and provide it.

Complaining clients who are hard to work with can become our best, most-loyal clients if we take the time to hear their real message and address their concerns. If our clients truly do not want to make things work, or if they really have given up, they would probably remain silent and quietly end the relationship as soon as possible.

If we are not careful to hear the real messages people are trying to communicate, we will miss them… and possibly miss out on great opportunities as well. Remember, you cannot change what people say, but you can change the way you choose to hear them. So now, when my mom is predicting gloom and doom in my life, I simply smile and say, “Mom, I got it. You love me.”

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