The Rabbit Listened

Right now, my favorite kids’ book is The Rabbit Listened. Here’s how the story goes.

A little girl is playing with a set of blocks when crows swoop down and destroy the beautiful tower she has made.

The girl is devastated. Soon, her friends arrive on the scene one at a time.

First, the chicken wants to talk about what happened.

But this doesn’t help the girl. She remains upset.

The bear wants to feel angry and shout.

But this doesn’t help the girl. She remains upset.

The elephant wants to remember how things were.

But this doesn’t help the girl. She remains upset.

The hyena wants to laugh about the situation.

But this doesn’t help the girl. She remains upset.

The ostrich wants to pretend nothing happened.

But this doesn’t help the girl. She remains upset.

The kangaroo wants to just throw away the ruined mess.

But this doesn’t help the girl. She remains upset.

The snake wants to get revenge.

But this doesn’t help the girl. She remains upset.

One by one these friends arrive to offer words of wisdom, suggest ideas for the future, and share frustration. And then they leave when the girl remains upset.

But then, the rabbit slips quietly in.

And the rabbit just sits. Unlike her other friends, the rabbit doesn’t say or suggest anything.

Then, slowly, so slowly, the rabbit moves closer and closer to the girl, still without saying anything, until it is close enough to pass its warmth to her.

Eventually, unprompted, the girl begins to talk. Then she expresses her anger over what happened. She remembers how things used to be.

She laughs. And after that she considers hiding for a while or throwing everything away or ruining someone else’s tower.

The rabbit stays right beside her through all of this.

And then, eventually, the girl feels peace about the whole situation and begins to talk of rebuilding.

Without the rabbit’s ever saying a word.

The girl’s attitude turned around completely all because—the rabbit listened.

At work and home, we’re all constantly faced with issues.

Our clients may become upset over an instance where they think we didn’t perform well enough.

Our teammates may struggle with something we said.

Our partners at home may not like the way we acted.

When these moments come—and they will come—the most natural way for almost all of us to respond is—with words.

We respond to our clients by immediately apologizing and explaining what happened.

We respond to our teammates with thoughtful phrases and ideas for how to move forward.

We respond to our partners by engaging in conversations about better ways for us to act.

But I don’t see many of us, myself included, just listening.

Listening when the client is upset and wants an answer.

Listening when our teammates are frustrated.

Listening when our partner shares something difficult.

We usually avoid listening—because just listening leaves us sitting in the person’s pain, and we don’t want to do that. We want to make our point. We want them to understand us. Rather than the other way around.

We Want to Move Past the Problem

My seven-year-old daughter hates getting in trouble. Absolutely hates it.

When she does get in trouble, even before I’m done scolding her, she normally interrupts me—“Dad, I get it and I’m sorry.” When I try to explain myself more, she will say, “Dad, I just told you I get it and I’m sorry.”

She doesn’t want to sit in the pain and discomfort of what she’s done. She’s ready to move on.

I do exactly the same thing at work and home. When I do something wrong or let someone down, I usually apologize and start to talk about next steps—quickly. I want to talk about how we’re moving on from my blunder. I don’t want to feel the pain of my mistakes.

Many of us also do this same thing when it comes to clients. When a client brings up an issue, we quickly say sorry and immediately pivot to addressing how we’re going to fix the problem. We want to move past the problem as soon as possible, sweeping it away—quickly.

The Rabbit Listened

Nothing I described above is bad behavior. Let’s be honest, even though we could see where the story was going, all of the animals in The Rabbit Listened had great intentions. They wanted to help their friend. Saying sorry to a client or our spouse or our partner is incredibly difficult and incredibly honorable.

Yet, what if—even before we said sorry—we just listened a bit more?

What would that do to our relationships with our friends, teammates, families, and spouses? And with our clients?

What if when the next upset client calls, we pause. What if before saying anything, we just allow some silence. Silence that is active. Silence that does the work of truly making sure there are no other hidden frustrations.

What if after allowing for that silence, we then finally say sorry.

What if after that—and only after that—we ask, gently:

  • Could you tell me more about exactly what the issue is?
  • Would you tell me how this has impacted you all, because this sounds like it had some pretty drastic consequences for you?
  • Where specifically did we let you down?

There are a hundred questions we could ask, and none of the questions above are particular gold standard ones. Mostly, the point is—what would happen if we just listened more?

What I think would happen is that our clients, friends, and family would actually feel—heard.

They wouldn’t feel us just following a polite formula, saving face, and trying to resolve things in order to check them and their problem off our list.

Instead, they would know that we’re genuinely trying to understand them and their situation. Rather than trying to make our point and get them to understand us.

And ultimately, we would achieve what the person we’re talking with really wants and needs most—to be understood and heard.

And that would happen because we—