Listening > Hearing

For a hypochondriac, it’s bizarre to get good news from a doctor about one thing, when you’re at the doctor for a different thing. Such was the case a few months ago when I thought I had my fourth ear infection in as many months. After a barrage of tests — including a hearing exam — I came to not only find I was sans ear infection, but I evidently have “impeccable hearing.”

For someone who spent 20+ years in rock bands, this was fascinating news. And while it didn’t solve my health issue, it left me with a thought: hearing is only a physiological process; listening is what’s important.

Once, I had a particularly unfortunate nonprofit manager who said a lot of things — let’s call this manager “Don.” Those things varied in scale from inconsequential to flat out offensive. When someone would disagree, Don would famously say, “you’re not hearing me.” To be fair, while we may have been hearing Don, very few of us were interested in actually listening.


A little chart about shenanigans

When I play the experiences back in my mind, I realize a pretty common nonprofit thing was happening. Rather than listening to the staff, Don simply waited for breaks in conversation to interject his point. Often, those points flew in the face of good practices, ethically and otherwise.

At the time, our team had decades of great experience, and was really skilled in our respective areas. Don, on the other hand, was not, and so many of his interjections were things we couldn’t (or shouldn’t) do. When someone manages with this lack of reality-based understanding, I believe it shows a major listening deficiency. [I talk a bit about that, here]

The takeaway? Just remember what acclaimed rock band Jimmy Eat World has to say on the subject: “Are you listening? Woaaaaaaaaaaah.”


The Five People You Meet In Nonprofits

The other night I was doing my husbandly duty of vacuuming the house. We have this ridiculous Black & Decker with 300 attachments, half of which are incredibly loud and you need a physics degree to operate. Anyway, I was downstairs trying out these myriad attachments, and before too long my wife yelled down, “Are you actually cleaning or just making noise?

Of course, this got me thinking about the last ~15 years of my life in nonprofits, and just how many of my colleagues weren’t ever really doing anything, they were just making noise. Here’s some of those people, with fake names of course:

  • Susan, the ED’s assistant — The office chatterbox. Complains about everything, especially being overworked, but is conveniently missing whenever you need her. Somehow has eight weeks vacation which she always takes at once.
  • Francesca, the COO’s assistant — The organization really isn’t big enough for the COO to have his own assistant, so Francesca objectively doesn’t have much to do. Wastes a lot of breath talking about being “from New York,” but she’s from Schenectady. Wants to run her own puppy nonprofit, but couldn’t spell “canine” with a dictionary. Her clothes are uncomfortably tight.
  • Timothy, the millennial program manager — Dear lord the boy must’ve had six cups of coffee today. Learned one important idea in a conference six months ago, and won’t do any work that doesn’t directly support that idea. Thinks audacious neckties are a right, not a privilege. Hasn’t taken a single note in a meeting, ever.
  • Lynnhe (pronounced “Lon“) — Not a single staffer could tell you what Lynnhe’s job is, so let’s just call her “office activist.” When she does show up, she spends half her time loudly and angrily watching CNN, and the other half being vocally outraged at presidential tweets. It’s unclear if she owns more than three shirts.
  • Michael, the operations guy — Very particular and vocal about who calls him Michael, Mike, Mikey, M-dawg, etc. Rants often about how things “used to be” when so-and-so ran the organization, but shows no initiative to find new employment. The scope of his job might be replacing the name labels on the office mailboxes. Wears jeans everyday with no exception, even though the office wardrobe policy was essentially written because of him.

So, there you have it… a smattering of people we’ve all worked with in nonprofits at some point in time. I hope you n’er have to work with them again.