Two Ears, One Mouse

July 7, 2009

There’s an expression that we were given two ears and one mouth because listening is twice as hard as talking.

My son’s mouse—and I use this determination of ownership loosely—was cast in a movie recently.  We were to be out of town during the filming and the director/producer agreed to take possession of the rodent star ahead of time.  I was thrilled to find someone to take over the duties associated with the mouse while we would be gone.

Two days into the trip I got the ill-fated phone call that Gus had met with an untimely demise at the jaws of a large dog. The dog was only partially responsible. The reality is that Gus was a victim of poor listening.

My son had shown concern about leaving the mouse in the first place.  “He’ll be scared.  They don’t know how to take care of him.  I don’t want Gus to be in the movie.”  I ignored all of his pleadings in order to push my own agenda, which was having someone take care of the mouse.

At drop-off, I questioned the wisdom of leaving the mouse cage on the floor of an office that is oft-times visited by a number of dogs.  My question was equally dismissed. 

See it coming?

How often do we ignore, gloss-over or run roughshod over questions or concerns raised around us?  It is hard for us—when we’ve made up our minds—to truly hear differing opinions.  Or not even differing, simply opinions that make our brilliant ideas not so stellar. 

I am a big believer in the Pareto Principle when it comes to pulling the trigger on business decisions.  And, one could argue that this mousicide falls into the realm of an acceptable level of risk-taking.  But, it is a good reminder that sometimes pearls of wisdom don’t always emanate from the loudest, most powerful or most driven member of an organization.  Listening is a crucial component of success.

According to Brian Wilson, the editor of, the top two strategies for business listeners are as follows:

  1. Know your goals for the conversation.
    • Exchange information.
    • Build a relationship.
    • Feel good.
    • Make someone else feel good.
  2. Be aware of your choices.
    • Talk or listen.
    • Focus or clarify.
    • Listen attentively or not.

It’s always helpful to recognize that our actions and inactions are really choices with consequences. Maybe if I had been a bit more attentive to my son’s concerns, or I had expressed more clearly my hesitance to leave Gus snout high, I wouldn’t be struggling with the obituary.

 (P.S. The witness to Gus’ demise said it was over very quickly. No one had informed the dog owner that the office was temporarily off-limits.)


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