Knowledge speaks. Wisdom listens. Go into every situation with an inwardly calm mind, and be a learner, not a teacher.
I once heard a story about a young boy who was hanging out with his friends one afternoon in his room, when his little brother wanders by. The boy says to his friends, "Hey guys. Wanna see something funny?" His buddies gather around. "Hey Bobby," he calls out to his four year old brother. "Come here for a second." Bobby, excited about being with the big kids, hurries over. "Bobby," the older brother flashes a nickel and a dime in his outstretched palm. "Which one do you want, the big one or the small one?" The older brother glances back at his friends and whispers, "Watch how stupid he is." Bobby’s eyes ponder his choice for a few seconds, and then he reaches out and grabs the nickel. "This one!" And with a big smile, little Bobby jams the nickel in his pocket and leaves the room.
The older brother puts the dime in his pocket, turns to his friends and breaks out laughing, "Is he stupid, or what? And he does it every time!" The other boys chime in, "Wow . . . he’s dumb. Yea, that’s funny!" Unbeknown to the boys, the brothers’ father was standing in the doorway and overheard the whole thing. He immediately headed for little Bobby’s room. "Bobby. Come over here son, I want to ask you something." He sits on the edge of the bed and leans toward his son. "Yeah Dad?" The father then pulls out a nickel and a dime and holds them out in his hand. "Son, you know that a dime is worth more than a nickel, don’t you?" Bobby nods and responds, "Sure, Dad. A dime is ten pennies and a nickel is only five pennies," he answers proudly. "So why did you take the nickel when your brother offered you the choice." Bobby reaches under his bed and pulls out a sock full of nickels. "Because if I take the dime, he’ll stop playing that game with me."
Bobby is wise beyond his years, because wisdom is all about aligning interests. It’s about using the best means to achieve the best ends. And in his case, the best end was to let the game continue. By sublimating his ego (if he even really has one) little Bobby allowed both himself and his brother to achieve the outcome that each desired. That’s wisdom! Knowledge, on the other hand, tries to win. To out-reason, to conquer. Knowledge is one sided. Wisdom works reciprocally. Knowledge is about getting the deal done. Wisdom understands that the purpose of each interaction is to grow the strength of the relationship. I meet a lot of very knowledgeable people in my business travels, but very few wise ones. Most people feel that they have to do all of the talking to prove their value, and to show how smart and dynamic they are. In fact, the key to building enduring relationships is to forget about you, be attentively silent and help the other person feel appreciated and valued.
Why do we forget? Why do we continue to push our agenda, instead of doing what’s best for our audience? Because we’re in a hurry, goal driven and attention hungry. We’re listening to the facts and to the little voice in our head, trying to quickly figure out how to get others around to our way of thinking. Instead, we should be listening to their feelings. Slow down, relax, be engaged, try to understand, be empathic. Tune out your turbulent thoughts - your techniques, obsessions and personal biases - and tune in your audience’s need to be heard, acknowledged and uniquely understood. Thoreau once wrote: "The greatest compliment that was ever paid to me was when someone asked me what I thought and attended to my answer." There is no greater gift you can give others than to be fully present with them, to make them feel that they are at they very heart of things.
Empathic listening is the very first step in making people feel good about themselves and in creating richer relationships and deeper trust. And it’s also the first step towards a compassionate heart. And it’s compassion that inspires us to improve people’s lives with our creativity and resourcefulness. To make them feel loved, appreciated and cared for. In fact, the closer we get to our audience and their problems, the more unbearable we find their suffering. We feel a responsibility to improve their well-being. We are compelled to take action. I love inventor David Levy’s "curse method" for developing new products: "Whenever I hear someone curse, it’s a sign to invent something." And that desire to improve life is the key to innovation, differentiation and success in today’s marketplace.
I suppose you should try to think and act like a shrink. Don’t judge. Don’t give advice. Listen and question. Let your audience stay in charge of themselves and their situation. It’s not an intellectual challenge; it’s an emotional one. See, hear and feel with your heart. Connect with your audience’s feelings and reassure those feelings. Solve problems together. Get at the truth together. Sure, insights are important. But it’s real life that brings those insights. So get out there! Interact. Let people dump on you, free of the worry of being judged or interrupted. Get into their drama. And then be driven to improve their drama in everything you say and in everything you do.