Dennis Beckman is a mentor, friend and the best listener I have ever had the privilege to talk to.
Dennis invests his whole self into understanding what any person tells him. I’ve watched him carefully. It’s a thing of beauty.
He doesn’t finish a sentence or thought for another person. He doesn’t start nodding his head before the other person is done. His whole body is focused on the speaker, not in an intrusive, “I can’t wait until you are finished” way but in an interested, “isn’t that fascinating” manner.
Dennis also has a habit of letting a second or two pass after a person is done speaking. He doesn’t jump into the open space but lets the speaker’s last words linger. I’ve never heard him try to one-up a person’s story or to summarize what someone said that doesn’t need summarizing. Because of his listening skills, most people think Dennis is really smart.
Last year, I watched Dennis apply his listening art to a very angry couple who believed their preteen daughter had been the victim of a bad call at a soccer tournament. As a volunteer referee, Dennis had just finished the second of three games under a sweltering summer sun. The father ranted and the mother shook her fist, but Dennis just listened. He hadn’t even made the call in question, yet he wanted to understand the parents’ reasoning and provide a sounding board for their frustration.
When the parents were depleted and they had time to take a few breaths, Dennis told them he knew that referees accidentally blow calls in almost every game and he apologized for this circumstance. He also offered to talk to the daughter. The parents declined, retreating to their air-conditioned car and very embarrassed daughter. Dennis returned to the field for his third game.
The difference between Dennis and me is that his actions were heartfelt and solution-focused. I’d still be preaching to those parents – that is, if I had ever let them voice their frustrations in the first place.
Update, August 10, 2016:
It’s been four years since I wrote my Mindful Midweek about the communication talents of Dennis Beckman. I’d like to say I’ve picked up on his listening skills and now people think I’m about as smart as John. Truth be told, I still over talk and under listen. But most real behavior changes are about progress, not perfection. Right? Unfortunately, if we bump into each other at Costco, I’ll tell you all I know about how you can change your bad habits.