When I first started work – in a drawing office – I was handed over to a senior draughtsman to be taken under his wing. They had stopped official apprenticeships by then but the advantages of experience being passed on first hand was still recognised by my employer. I recall my mentor saying to me on the first day “You can ask any question you like – twice.” The principle being that by the second time I should have either listened well enough or written it down. It was a lesson which would help me many times in my varied career and one I would eventually pass on – in a very similar way – when it came to pass on my experience.
Learning to listen is important, more important than learning to speak if you ask me. The young Samuel learned to listen to God quite early on. The episode where God calls to him shows that while he heard God, he did not know how to listen to him. His mentor, the aging priest Eli, had been told by God that the days of “his house” were numbered and – after an initial dismissal – Eli listens to what Samuel has to say and helps him to listen to God.
It’s a lesson we would do well to pay attention to ourselves, particularly in the context of digital and social media. Too many times I’ve seen an ill-thought out, knee-jerk tweet or comment cause more problems than it sought to resolve. Too often I’ve seen those who consider themselves “experienced” in digital media patronise those who are new to the experience. But one part of the lesson of listening we often overlook and which could help so much is the asking of questions. My mentor advised me to ask questions. Eli enquired of Samuel after he had listened to God – even though he knew it might not be good news for him. Asking the right question is key to listening but asking without being prepared to listen to the response is possibly worse.
Help the newbies. Help the non-newbies but make sure you listen to them.