Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Conversation (face to face) (10/07/10)
TITLE: The Frugal Listener
By Dolores Stohler
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“Good morning, Ken. I see you’ve already made the coffee,” she said, with approval in her tone. A grunt from Ken acknowledged her greeting.
“Now let me see. How about bacon and eggs for breakfast? I could make us a nice omelet.” No response.
“Or maybe some pancakes with fruit and maple syrup.”
“Fine. That’s just fine,” said Ken, not looking up from his paper.
Kristen bustled about and couldn’t find any pancake syrup. “That’s funny,” she said in a loud voice. “ I thought I bought syrup last week. It was on my list. Oh, well, I‘ll find something nice.”
More rummaging about and she approached the table, setting down a pitcher of milk and a bowl of blueberries, then a bowl of cereal at each place. Finally, she added a plate of buttered toast. Ken looked down at her offerings with a frown. “I thought you said we were having pancakes. This is the usual breakfast fare.” He shot her an accusatory look.
“If you’d been listening, you would have heard me say I couldn’t find the syrup. And we’re all out of eggs as well.”
Ken put down his paper with a disgusted look. “You‘re getting very forgetful. You need to start checking your stores and make a grocery list.”
“For your information, I do make a list and check things off as well. But it’s hard to manage with two small kids in tow.” Ken grunted again and spooned up some cereal, returning to the newspaper.
With a sigh and a look of pain, Kristen began to eat but there was a thoughtful look on her face. “You know, Ken,” she said, putting her hand on the paper to hold it down, “You’re a good husband but you need to be a better listener. Why, it’s nearly impossible to carry on a conversation with you. I could tell you what’s going on in the lives of all our friends but I’ll bet you know absolutely nothing about the private lives of your employees.”
“What’s to know? I hire them to do a job, not socialize.”
“But, honey, I’ve heard that a good leader is one who knows how to connect with people on a personal level and make them feel comfortable talking to him. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both had this quality of warmth and friendliness, Obama, too.”
“You’re telling me I’m not approachable?” Ken glared at her across the table. “I am an elder in the church. People respect me and I treat my employees well.”
“I’m not saying you aren’t a good boss. What I’m saying is that you’re too preoccupied with other things to be a good listener. How about trying a little experiment this morning? When you arrive at work, instead of just saying 'good morning' to whoever you pass in the hall, stop a minute and ask them about their family or their health. I challenge you to do that with each and every one of them and then tell me what you learn.”
“Alright,” said Ken, with a sigh. “If it‘ll make you happy, I‘ll do it.”
When Ken came home that night, he threw his briefcase onto the table and collapsed into the nearest chair. He had an air of defeat as he met Kristen‘s eyes. “Well, you’re welcome to say it. I know it’s coming.”
“I told you so! Good God, Kristen, there isn’t a soul in my office who hasn‘t been hiding some kind of personal heartbreak. My secretary’s mother has cancer and it’s inoperable, my partner’s marriage is on the rocks and you know that good-looking kid whom the girls are so crazy about? Well, his best friend died in an auto accident last week.
After hearing all their stories, I sat at my desk and came to a tough decision. I called my staff in and told them we’re going to start with a half-hour prayer session in my office each morning. When they return to their desks, it’ll be with the knowledge that someone cares about them.” He gave a rueful smile and winked at his wife. “See, I’m not the ogre you’ve made me out to be.”
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