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Saturday Bike Rides with Bob: Listening-The Secret to Social Wellbeing

Posted by Joe Antle on August 22, 2021 10:25 AM EDT
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In our most recent Saturday bike ride, Bob and I pick up on the challenge he had given to each of us in our prior Saturday bike ride which was...

...to find at least three occasions where we engaged in meaningful conversations and interactions with three different people (or groups of people) in which we did no more than 30% of the actual talking, with the others we were interacting with doing at least 70% of the talking.  We both agreed that this exercise would push us into something that would improve our communications skills, which are central to improved social wellbeing....and in many cases can enhance community wellbeing and career wellbeing to boot.

So, I began by asking Bob to share his experiences with this challenge.

Bob said that all of his interactions were as a greeter at his church, which happened the following Sunday after our more recent Saturday bike ride.  He mentioned that being a greeter is a wonderful service to the church and its guests which he and his wife are pleased to do.  Admittedly, Bob said, this is easier to do in the context of being a greeter for the objective of that role is to learn as much as possible about the guests as a first step in perhaps offering the guests an opportunity to become members of the church.  As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, making members and guests feel welcomed and safe at the church facility is an important aspect of their total positive religious experience.  And readers of this blog know that Bob is a strong believer in the power of volunteerism to having a more vibrant and enjoyable pre-retirement and retirement lifestyle.

When I asked Bob some questions about these several interactions, such as why did he choose this context for the exercise/experiment of listening 70% of the time (ergo, speaking only 30% of the time) and were the conclusions he derived from the exercise, he said the following.

The role of being the church designated greeter forces that person to ask good open-ended questions and to listen intently in order to ask good follow-on questions.  Guests and visitors don't want to feel pressured or sold on attending a church by a greeter who does most of the talking.  And of course, being a greeter should not be about doing the talking.  In essence, this choice enabled him to have a tool by which to force his compliance to the objective of 30% or less of the talking.

To the question of what were key learnings from the exercise, Bob gave some background as to what he hoped the learnings could do with the more than 20 very dear friends that he and his wife have had for more than 25 years.  He said that he wants to translate his learnings into new ways to interact with these close friends.  By being a greeter, he found three things that seemed to stand out.  First, Bob said that it was pretty easy to come up with good questions, that the respondents-the guests, and visitors could respond to with confidence and comfortableness.  Second, these visitors to the church seemed to enjoy the experience and speak very openly and forthcomingly.  And, thirdly, Bob said he enjoyed the experience also, he felt less inclined to "perform as a brilliant, outgoing messenger of sorts" and to simply be himself, letting the guests do the talking.

When I asked Bob if there were other occasions during the week in which he consciously followed the methodology of doing only 30% of the talking, he said that there were several good conversations he had with his wife.  A couple were on important matters they needed to discuss and one was mostly casual conversation.  Again, he found the same three conclusions as he did during the church greeter role.  And, when asked how he measured the impact of it, he said that his wife didn't look away one time during the conscious aspect of him letting her do the talking and his interaction being more around asking ongoing questions.

A final point that Bob mentioned was a saying that many of has heard many times before.  Rather than opening our mouths constantly to show others how much we know and how smart we are, the secret to better relationships through improved communications is to open our mouths less often and become smarter by listening to others more fully.

By now, our bike ride was nearing an end, and Bob turned the conversation to me sharing my three experiences of purposeful listening and doing 30% or less of the talking.  At this point, I couldn't help but note that Bob had been doing more than 70% of the talking during our bike ride.  He smiled, laughed, and said that was correct.

I shared with Bob that as he had done with the church greeter role to create a structure for improving his listening to talking ratio, I had done the same thing by reverting to a methodology of asking three why questions, followed by a what question and a how question.  I shared with him on a couple of occasions that this concept worked well for me during the week.  One was with my boss on an issue that had surfaced.  During the conversation I asked the three "why questions", then I followed up with a "what question" and a "how" question.  ON the "how" question which was "how" were we going to confirm that the situation was resolved, my boss actually said he was going to call the client and ask "three why questions and a what and how question".  And another was with my wife in discussing some issues related to our caring for a loved one.  After the conversation concluded, I felt like my wife had come up with a plan that would be better than our current one and it was all her idea.  Bob asked me what was the third occasion.

I told him the third occasion was the bike ride conversation with him.  I asked him three "why questions", a "what question", and a "how question".  Bob smiled and gave me a "thumbs up"!  It was probably the first time on one of our Saturday bike ride discussions where I did less than 30% of the talking!

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