By Christine Sederquist
WCRL VP of Communications
This month, I’m officially a parent to two teenagers. God help me. I remember the first moment I found out I would be a parent: this strange feeling of simultaneous joy and overwhelming fear. I threw myself in to reading all the magazines, all the books, and even talking to therapists to learn how to not emotionally break my children. I always said that I wanted to avoid seeing them on Oprah one day, talking about how their mother ruined their lives.
In all the years of research and practice, I found that the greatest thing I could do to keep our relationships healthy was to listen. Many of you know of “active listening” where you listen to someone speak and you validate how they feel; you ask open-ended questions to allow them to open up to you more. I say things like “It sounds like it’s really frustrating to you when you don’t get to stay up late all weekend. What do you think is a reasonable bedtime for Friday nights?” when I really want to say “If you stay up until 3 am, you are seriously grounded”. Just listening and not silencing goes a long way without the trappings of resentfulness and anger.
I bring this up because years of practice in active listening has taught me so much in how I respond to people. We all want to be heard. The toddler who’s just learned to say “no”; the senior citizen who knows they’ve seen more life than I have; the resident who struggles to pay their property tax; the club member who wants to make a contribution; even the protester who feels like we’re leading them down the wrong path. They all want to be heard. They all want validation.
In my own short years as an elected official, active listening has raised my awareness of issues that hadn’t come before the Council dais. It’s inspired safety changes for roads, lighting adjustments in neighborhoods, and adjustments to the time construction is allowed. I didn’t just read the angry emails or say perfunctory hellos at community get-togethers. I listened to the smallest of complaints, validated them, and asked about the desired outcomes. I have no doubt that we’re a better city for it.
As we go into the spring election season and we encounter friends, family, or even strangers who have something to say, I’d encourage you to find a way to listen, validate, and ask questions. There could be winning issues you never realized and best of all, there may be people who become your support system, leading you in becoming a more effective leader.