Jimi Hendrix is credited with saying: “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens”, it’s one of my favorite quotes.
Lately, I have been reflecting deeply on the many benefits of listening, due to the untimely passing of a great man who was a dear friend and a patriarch in my extended family. The impact Mark Pacione left on all who knew him was amplified immeasurably by his unique ability to be present and to truly listen.
When you were with Mark, he gave you the unique and unmistakable gift of his complete and undivided presence and attention. This was not only true for his family and friends, but for complete strangers. Many times in the days surrounding his funeral I heard people comment on this very point, sharing how you felt like you were the only one in the world and nothing was more important than what you had to say when he was listening to you. When my son married his daughter, many of my friends were able to spend a few moments with Mark during the hectic activities of that very large wedding celebration weekend. Even with the chaos that swirls around the father of the bride, caught up in the emotional whirlwind of giving his only daughter away in matrimony, he managed to leave that same indelible feeling of being seen, heard, and appreciated.
He made everyone feel important because he treated everyone as important. Your age didn’t matter, nor did your status, race, religion or politics. He made strangers feel like friends and friends feel like family, in large part because he gave you the gift of his listening.
As someone who teaches listening, (it is a core skill in teaching leaders to coach), I cannot help but reflect on the example of this master of listening presence. Nor can I ignore the impact it created in the lives of so many. Thousands of people dropped what they were doing to travel to pay their final respects in person, many more shared heartfelt and touching memorials in cards, letters and social media posts. While my skills to properly eulogize this great man feel inadequate, it does feel right to carry on in some small way his legacy by recommitting myself to listening with full presence in all of my encounters.
To begin, I have undertaken a 30 day challenge to not interrupt people. This may seem a small step, but it is a good place to start, at least for me. Often, I find myself excitedly ready to build upon what I am hearing and beginning to speak before I have let the person speaking finish their thought. Or I find myself “helping” the other person complete their thought by supplying the word or phrase I imagine they are looking for when they take even the briefest of pause in their speaking. I have been at it a couple of days now and have come to realize I need to consciously count out a couple seconds, to ensure I am not stepping too quickly into the silence.
Learning to coach has taught me to be a better listener. The passing of Mark Pacione has reminded me that I have a long way to go to become a master. He has shown me, and thousands of others, that it is not only wisdom that listens, but compassion too.