In today’s world, full of distraction, it is getting harder to pay attention. But whether it’s at work, at school, or in a deliberative assembly of politicians, it is still simple to figure out who is focused and attentive, and who isn’t.
Politicians work hard to get our attention, using different platforms to ensure that we hear what they have to say. We get bombarded with these messages daily, some relevant and interesting, some easily dismissed as political rhetoric. Even with all of this, the distance between the elected and the electorate, especially on the provincial and national stage, has never been wider. The political voice of the people has diminished; perhaps because we all stopped listening.
The experience I’ve had being out of politics has taught me that in business, listening is everything. Sound judgment and decision-making start with having finely honed listening skills, and the lack of that can be the difference between success and failure. Right away, you learn that you must listen to everyone to be successful – your customers, employees, media, competitors, industry partners. And listening properly means listening to comprehend another’s view rather than to convince them of yours. Richard Branson said, “If you want to stand out as a leader, a good place to start is listening.”
The same holds true for politicians. On the wall of my office when I served as mayor, mixed in with the photos, calendars, and Post-it notes was a quote by Winston Churchill: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” That was a key lesson for me that I learned early on as a new politician. At our Council meetings topics were discussed and debated that I had limited knowledge of, and it made sense to seek out as much information as possible, especially from people who were most knowledgeable or affected by the issue at hand. I knew that when I was talking, I was repeating both what I had personally experienced and what I had learned from others, and I relied on listening to the words of other elected officials, administrative staff, residents, and business owners to broaden my perspective and make the best decision possible. It wasn’t always easy but providing space to listen and reflect on my council colleagues’ points of view made our debate more respectful and the ultimate decision much more inclusive.
The issues that politicians deal with daily are complex and require a heightened awareness of what is happening at home and around the world. Everyone, especially those most affected, deserves the right to have their perspective heard as part of the decision-making process. As Albertans, our political voice doesn’t just happen every four years when we vote. True representative democracy is founded on the principle of our elected officials representing all the people in their riding, regardless of their personal or party support. If the measure of a true voice of the people is one who doesn’t just listen to those who agree with them but actively seeks out dissenting opinions and thoughts, then by these standards our current provincial government is not measuring up. So, let’s take off the earplugs and listen – we might all learn something.
Lisa Holmes is a former Morinville mayor and councillor who lives in St. Albert.