The Art of Listening
A significant component of Jewish Family Services is speaking with clients and understanding their concerns, worries, and needs. Sometimes, this part of the job requires some “digging” to uncover what has brought the person to our door. I don’t mean hiring an investigator, but instead really hearing what the person is saying.
As a Rabbi, I have understood that there are two types of questions. The first is the one that is seeking information. The second is a statement with a question mark at the end of the sentence. The first person will appreciate the concrete help that comes their way. The second is making a plea for someone to listen.
When I first began working at the Federation, I received a telephone call from someone who didn’t fit our criteria for financial help. But not wanting to leave the conversation there, I spoke with him about the options and possibilities for where he could find the help he needed. Near the end of the conversation, he told me, “Thank you for your help. Nobody has ever taken the time and effort to hear me out.” He emailed me 24 hours later to say he had found a job and thanked me for my time and guidance.
I’ve had clients who want to speak about what is happening in their lives. Some want a roadmap to solving problems, while others want to be heard needing an understanding ear to listen to them. Once, when speaking with someone venting about something, I stopped the conversation and asked, “Do you want me to offer a solution or just listen?” The person thought and responded, “Just listen.” I was happy to give my full attention without any pressure to offer a solution; the person was delighted knowing I understood what he wanted. It was indeed a win-win situation.
The ability to listen well is only acquired with practice. The first step to being a good listener is to leave your agenda at the door and be there for the client. While my background will surely inform me, it can’t dictate my answers to someone seeking to be heard. As a Rabbi, I am often expected to answer a particular problem in Jewish law. As the Director of JFS, I serve differently by simply being there with and for the other person. In so doing, I can often enable a client to work through and solve some of the issues that brought the client to me. While I may suggest things and ask questions that may help the person get to the root of the situation, it is never my role to solve the problem. That is for the client to do.
When a person feels “heard,” they feel valued. Imagine what could be accomplished if we could all learn to listen to others as they need to be listened to. For many people, it may be just what the doctor ordered.
Let me know if you agree. I look forward to hearing from you.
Rabbi Fred Nebel
Jewish Family Services Director