On being heard, revisitedBy: Stephen Marsh
Many people complain that they are not being heard. Yes, there is an issue with people not listening. Even more, there is also a matter of people not paying the price to be heard.
I am going to use some examples and take a little time with them. First, Carla Bateman. Carla was a school nurse, an R.N. While she and her husband were serving a mission, he pulled over to the side of the road and then died. She had been involved in the community before, but when she returned, she renewed her involvement. I would say she spent at least thirty hours a week providing selfless, un-reimbursed professional service.
She was a driving force behind providing free health care for the uninsured poor, resulting in the building of a clinic and the rebuilding of it when it was destroyed by fire. She was responsible for the building of a multi-use non-profit center building (used by many groups) and other community matters.
While she is now disabled (she has lost her vision), people who love her still call and visit (my own mother still calls Carla regularly). But, even now, when she speaks, people listen. She is heard when she speaks.
Second, there was a man whose impact I became aware of when I was in law school. I met some of the graduate students who had served a mission with my brother and they talked about how their mission president received a letter. The impact it had on their mission president was so powerful, they remembered it years later and wanted to look the man up. Later I had the chance to be at dinner with his family and a non-member friend.
The non-member friend had had a problem with an employee and her interaction with her bishop. That had been almost fifteen years before. He still remembered how the bishop received a letter that turned him white. He had blanched and immediately all the abuse of the employee stopped.
That man could write letters with great spiritual force. He wasn’t anyone special. No notable family. No credentials at all. No friends in high places. No calling I know of. But he had the ability to write with overwhelming spiritual power.
I can think of other people who were able to be heard. In addition, I have had my own experiences. But being able to be heard comes in one of two ways:
First, you become a (small “p”) prophet. Someone whose authority resonates on an issue. That requires:
- Time spent becoming an authority. Probably takes 10,000 hours of work invested in research and learning and writing and service in a field, if not more.
- Time spent in service to others.
- Time spent in prayer. I’d estimate it takes an hour a day over several years.
- Time spent in core gospel study. I’d estimate an hour a day for several years.
Otherwise you are just another non-expert with a good deal of hubris and an opinion or a complaint, giving advice to people who have spent years and years “in the trenches” so to speak.
Second the alternative is that you speak your listeners language in a very direct, restrained fashion. You do it in a way they are open to hear it.
- You take a slightly understated approach and do not overstate any fact. If there is something obviously wrong or that obviously needs change, it will speak for itself. Nothing you can say will do much of anything but blunt the impact.
- You do not blame anyone.
- You do not tell anyone what to do with the problem.
- You do it in a context that everyone involved knows that you love them, support them and have supported them.
Of course this means you are only heard when it is obvious.
Finally, you have to acknowledge that there is a culture, and that being able to interact with the culture and speak according to its norms is a basic test of competence.
In a related discipline, I used to tell people that their ability — or their lack of ability — to communicate was a threshold competence test. Which is why I wrote a series of posts about understanding general authorities. It seems to me that if someone wanted to communicate with them, they ought to at least understand them somewhat.
Anyway, what do you think about being heard, about paying the price and about what it takes to have a voice?
Would you have any suggestions as to what I should add or consider that people ought to also think about?
My earlier post on
I came home one day from Sacrament meeting and my wife had a sheet of paper, on official church stationary, titled “First Presidency Statement on Birth Control.” It had been passed out in Relief Society with instructions not to mention it to husbands. The statement seemed somewhat suspect, though I had a good idea of its actual author and why it had been promulgated the way it had been. It wasn’t long until there was a visit from Salt Lake and the matter was resolved. No one ever gave me any problems as a result of my complaint about the incident. What I did, anyone can do, more or less. It involves how to be heard rather than ignored.
I took a copy of the letter and mailed it to Salt Lake, addressed to a committee (whose name has probably change by now). Basically I said “When I was in law school, I was asked if I ever came across something that appeared to be put out as an official Church statement to forward it. I’m not sure if this is what was meant or not, but I’m sending it in. It came home from a meeting at Church this week. Thanks for your patience. Sincerely yours, SM.” That was it. I think it illustrates the point though.
First, I took a slightly understated approach and did not overstate any fact. If what is going on is wrong, then it speaks for itself. This thing sure did. Nothing I could say about it could do anything but blunt the impact.
Second, I did not blame anyone for the statement or for passing it out. I did not identify the guy whose stationary was used, the guy he passed it to, the local guy who shared it or anyone else.
Third, I did not tell anyone what to do with the problem. I didn’t even say it was a problem.
Something similar happened recently. A poster reported that he had been told to keep his new Stake President in the dark about something because there was an ongoing criminal case, etc. I happened to know that the policy was not that a Stake President was to be kept in the dark but that the Stake President should do nothing to discourage criminal prosecution. I mentioned it and was given someone’s e-mail, direct phone line and asked to have them contact him immediately so he could make certain that the mistake was cleared up and that the attorney who was explaining things got a lesson in clarity. (Yes, the information was passed along to someone who has privileges to access e-mail on postings in order to send the contact information onward. I don’t have that access, btw).
What did I do? I merely mentioned that someone reported that they thought they had been told not to inform the new Stake President, that he should be kept in the dark about the issue. I was understated about it. Did not blame anyone (other than to say that is what they understood from talking to the Church’s attorney). I did not suggest anything.
Now I don’t complain often. I’ve complained once in my current stake, got an apology (much to my surprise) and an immediate change in behavior from people who are, honestly, doing their best to do their best. But the people I talked to knew that I liked them, I support them, and I care about them. Again, I was understated, I let the issue speak for itself. I did not blame anyone in particular for a trend that had evolved. I did not tell anyone what to do. But it was “Gee, have you noticed …” – once they did notice they reacted immediately, faster than I would have. But then, they are good men.
Me. Currently I show up to meetings. Support my wife in her callings. Teach a lesson every other month. Do my hometeaching most of the time. But I’m no one of particular importance.
However, I’ve seen lots of failed complaints. I’ve known people who regularly complain and who get ignored even more often (unless they get called to the position they’ve complained about. I know one brother who did not quit complaining fast enough and ended up in the new bishopric when he had been complaining about the old one. I warned him that might happen). Failed complaints tend to have a similar pattern.
First, they are overstated. They do not rest on incontrovertible facts that cannot be contested.
Second, they blame someone.
Third, they have definite desired solutions that are often presented with the complaint.
Fourth, they are from people who complain often.
Now sometimes solutions are ok, especially for nit picks. E.g. you know, the sacrament trays really are water spotted. Would you like me to use silver polish on them once a month? As long as I’m offering to take care of a problem, and it is “janitorial” type stuff, no one complains. I suspect if I was to try and make common complaints like that I’d run out of things to complain about (or become the new best friend of the agent bishop). But otherwise, being heard includes being heard to ask about rather than being heard to tell about or being heard trying to dictate to.
I’d like to suggest that if you have a problem being heard when you complain, that you consider which pattern you fall into and then make the adjustments necessary to be heard when it matters. Otherwise, what you really intend is not to be heard at all.
My earlier post on
I often meet two kinds of people. The first has a voice that others hear. The other has a desire to be heard, but they don’t know how to bridge the gap, how to become a prophet (that is Prophet with a small “p”). That is what this essay is about.
Part of writing this post is facing my own failures. Part of it explaining what the cost is to achieve a voice that is heard, something I have done in the past and have seen others do. Part of it is lessons learned.
- You have to have a focus — an area — a narrow one — you will have authority in. You need a single topic, or tightly related set of topics. In my own case it was ADR. In Suzette Haden Elgin’s case it was verbal violence. In Dr. De Mars case it is tribal ethics. I would note that Dr. Elgin is a wonderful author of feminist fiction, an artist I respect (I have some of her work) and has other accomplishments. Sorry, she only has a strong voice in her primary focus. Dr. De Mars is a well regarded professor of advanced statistics and a world judo champion. Her voice that matters is in ethics.
- You have to accept costs in pride — basically you have to sacrifice pride. To be heard clearly you have to choose accessibility in your communication. That means that a certain group will disparage you and, if you do it well, the rest will think that anyone could have written or said what you had to say and that you are not saying anything that is not obvious.
- You have to take time to learn the area you want to have a voice in. It takes two thousand hours to gain solid understanding. Ten thousand hours of applied practice and study to gain mastery. That is the minimum of time you need to invest.
- You have to accept collateral demands as well — time spent in selfless service, not promoting yourself, not pushing any extra agenda.
- If you want a voice in any community of faith you have to respect its norms, have knowledge of its core and maintain spiritual resonance. If I wanted a mainstream LDS voice I would need to shave my beard — which would make Win and my employer sad, though my ten year old would be happy.
When you look at Area Authorities in the Church you will see people who have given thousands of hours of service, who observe norms, who spend time in prayer, study and focus. When they speak they are easily understood. If you want a voice of that type or greater, you have to accept a level of cost at at least that level. They are heard, but the cost in order to be heard was usually a minimum of twenty years of constant dedication and service.
Finally, a sixth point. (and I know the rule of fives, but obviously, as I’ve noted, I have my failures). You have to embrace humility, patience and love. If you can’t embrace loving humility, true patience and kindness, then no matter what you think about what you have to say, you are not ready to be the one to say it. (cf Numbers 16:10).
You have to decide if what you have to say is worth the cost. With ADR I’ve said what I had to say. I guess I should go back and clean up typos, do some editing and rewriting and such (that is part of the work and humility that would be part of having and keeping a voice), fill in gaps in material and such, but I don’t see a need. You can tell I’m not willing to pay the price. I will never rise to having a true voice in that area that would give me any credibility or ability to be heard if an issue overlapped that area.
Yes for those who have noticed, humility also includes not expecting to be heard outside of your area. Bringing that home, no matter how good I get at litigating insurance defense cases in Texas, I should not expect anyone to listen to me talk on issues of property law in Texas or any other state. Obviously I would not expect anyone to listen to me on issues that are even further afield.
The decision (if what you have to say is worth the cost.), and acknowledging that there is a decision, is important. You have to recognize the elements of the real price, in order to decideif you really want to have a voice, if you really want to be a prophet, someone who speaks on an issue and who is really heard.
Dr. Elgin decided to pay the price. She has sold millions of volumes, changed many lives for the better in her one, core area. I consider her one of the saints of God.
I have not done it, I have not done everything required to pay the price. Instead, I have reflected on my failures, and I hope my reflections and thoughts will aid those who desire to have a voice and who are honestly willing to do what it takes to be a [p]rophet.
Other related postes
- So you want to be an improver?
- Understanding General Authorities, Part Three
- Understanding General Authorities, Part II (ok, so I shave the beard off all the time, don’t tell anyone).
- Running on Empty
- Understanding General Authorities
Hope the appendixes and links are useful.