208-376-1701 bryan@bryanyager.com

First a quote: “Do you really care, or are you just being a good listener?” – Barbara Smaller

I begin today asking you two questions. They are:

  1. Are you an above average driver? Are you an above average listener?

Did you answer in the affirmative on both questions?  Based on my experience facilitating countless workshops over the years, my bet is you likely answered yes; maybe even heck yes, to both questions. While I doubt very few people claim to be perfect drivers, most would say they’re pretty good and certainly better than average. I find the same thing to be true about listening as well. Most people know they can improve as listeners, and most also believe they’re better than average.

I have asked those two questions for years in workshops covering a variety of topics. The responses I receive to both questions are almost laughably predictable. Almost always, 100% of participants claim to be above average. Now I’m not a statistician, but I do suspect it is mathematically impossible for 100% of us to be above average, regardless the topic. (I suppose it is possible that only the very best drivers and listeners have participated in my workshops. 😊)

My point is, some of us (50% of us) are likely to be below average in either or maybe even both categories. Now a bit of a left-hand turn.

Several years ago, I saw  the quote above in a cartoon featured in The New Yorker magazine. It was done by cartoonist Barbara Smaller. The cartoon reminded me of “an incident” I had with Becky early in our marriage.

After returning home from a workshop in which I had been teaching effective listening skills, Becky and I became engaged in a contentious discussion. While I don’t remember the topic, I do remember thinking at the time; that I should be practicing the very skills & techniques I had spent the day teaching. One of those listening skills was active listening; the utilization of reflective listening statements and paraphrasing to be specific. You know, statements like, “So what I think you said is…”

It didn’t go well.

As I remember, she put her finger in my face and in a tone not typical for her, she said something like, “I AM YOUR WIFE, DON’T USE YOUR TRAINING TECHNIQUES ON ME!”

I remember thinking to myself, “I believe in the tools and skills I’m teaching others. I know they work if used properly. If I’m applying those same skills, how did this conversation go so poorly when I was trying to be a good listener?”


Please know I work on my listening skills every single day of my life. I know I’m easily distracted by shiny objects and the mental chatter inside my own head. I’m still striving to use the tools I have taught for years more effectively in all aspects of my life. I have made progress over the years, but trust me, I still have lots of room for improvement. Here is an abbreviated list of lessons learned:

  • It starts with heart! – As Barbara asked in her cartoon, “Do you really care, or are you just being a good listener?” Certainly, it is possible to be a good listener and not care about the person or what is being said. We must “want to” listen. People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.  And people know how much you care based upon their perception of not only how well you’re listening, but how well you’re understanding their intended message.

“I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant”
Alan Greenspan

  • People resent techniques. – I suspect this is what triggered Becky’s negative response all those years ago. She likely didn’t sense a genuine desire on my part to authentically listen to what she was saying and feeling. Therefore, the tools and skills I was practicing felt and sounded like superficial techniques.
  • Techniques can feel like manipulation. – If someone senses you’re using a technique, they might feel they’re being manipulated. Nobody wants to be manipulated… ever! Even the perception of being manipulated will likely result in heightened levels of resentment, defensiveness, non-productive conversations, and damaged relationships.
  • Tools can be used constructively and/or destructively. – Let me use an analogy here. A hammer is a useful tool that can be used in a variety of ways. A hammer can be used constructively to build a house or make a piece of furniture, or it can be used destructively to destroy things, break them apart, or even as a weapon to hurt people.

Just like a hammer, listening skills and tools can also be used constructively or destructively.

While many people are naturally gifted listeners, I have come to believe most of us need practice, patience, gentle feedback, and the occasional coaching from someone who cares about us. I am so grateful Becky is both patient and willing to lovingly coach me on a regular basis on this topic.

Feeling bold today… maybe you should ask the important people in your life about your listening skills. Would they say you’re an above average listener?  Their opinion might be enlightening, more accurate, or at least more important, than yours. It will also give you a wonderful opportunity to practice your listening skills.  Just a thought.

How will you live, love, or lead, differently, or better, this week?


Bryan Yager

“Expanding Your Capacity for Success”

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Bonus Quotes:

  • “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” – Doug Larson
  • “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” – Bryant H. McGill
  • “Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” – Karl A. Menniger
  • “Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.” – Alan Alda
  • “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said” – Peter Drucker
  • “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen R. Covey
  • “Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” ― Roy T. Bennett
  • “Part of being successful is about asking questions and listening to the answers.” ― Anne Burrell