It seems that the best public servants are often the best listeners. So why is listening so low on the list of attributes that we look for in our politicians?
Rather than lauding good listeners, we organize political debates to praise the candidates who demonstrate the most eloquence and poise. Then we parade them in front of cameras like beauty contestants to judge whether they are fashionable, photogenic and charming enough to meet our progressive standards and, rather comically, whether they “look presidential” enough. Moreover, of course, our favorites are almost always those who have the strongest political agendas, the most creative platforms, and the most innovative ideas.
Seldom do we seem to care how well our candidates have polished their listening skills, however. Moreover, in my view, that is a big mistake. A good listener does not just impatiently remain silent while rehearsing the speech he will make as soon as a conversational opening arises. Nor does he vigilantly wait to pounce on flaws in the speaker’s arguments.
Instead, a good listener genuinely desires to understand the speaker’s perspectives on an issue. Then he goes out of his way to walk a mile in the speaker’s shoes before rendering a decision, to see and experience the problem in the same way that the speaker does. A good listener asks thoughtful questions and is motivated by bona fide curiosity rather than hostility or cynicism.
Likewise, effective public servants care less about looking good or being heard than finding the best solution for all involved. Good servants are far less concerned about being right than getting it right. Consequently, they develop the habit of listening empathetically to everyone’s views, examining problems from as many angles as possible, then synthesizing the information obtained to arrive at solutions designed to benefit as many stakeholders as reasonably possible. The art of listening is not an easy skill to master, but for public servants, it is a crucial one.
To contact Mayor Woodbury, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.