The One Problem with Mockingbirds

It’s June in Southern California.  That means it’s mockingbird time.

As we sat on the patio for dinner tonight, a mockingbird serenaded us.  I’m always amazed, because they have so many different songs in their repertoire. They’ve been created with the ability to “mock” other birds, duplicating up to 200 different calls – clearly and loudly.

It’s the aviary version of having a Kindle.  You get hundreds of bird calls for the price of a single bird.

Turns out it’s all about romance.  Most often, it’s the male that makes the most noise, trying to attract the attention of the females.  They often sit on the peak of a roof or the highest branch of a tree.  They want to be seen, and they want to be heard.  They’re not shy about advertising their presence.

Sounds like some guys you’ve known, right?

During the day, it’s amazing to listen to.  I often take my work outside so I can hear the serenade.  It doesn’t get much better than that, listening to a bird do exactly what it was created to do – and do it well.

But there’s a problem: They often sing all night, too.

At 3:00 AM, I’m not nearly as amazed.  Their song isn’t very relaxing when I’m trying to sleep. It’s very well done, but I don’t care.  I want it to stop.

It’s all about timing.

That’s true with people, too.

We have a lot of things to say – words we think others will want to hear.  Sometimes, it’s exactly what they need – and they appreciate those words.  But sometimes, those good words are spoken at the wrong time or in the wrong circumstances:

  • Giving advice when someone just needs a listening ear.
  • Suggesting solutions when someone just needs empathy.
  • Focusing on our own problems without noticing the pain in another person.
  • Making it all about us instead of about them.
  • Assuming that they want our opinion instead of seeking their perspective.
  • Talking about tough stuff first thing in the morning when they’re a night person (or vice-versa).

See the common thread?  It’s listening.

Too many people are like mockingbirds – talking all the time, sharing their opinions from the rooftop, hoping to attract the attention of anyone who will listen.  But when we talk before we listen, we can’t discern when our words are needed.

That can be irritating.

Someone said that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.

In fact, the biblical book of Proverbs reinforces the importance of timely communication:

  • “Wise people always think before they speak, so what they say is worth listening to.”
  • “Fools have no desire to learn; they would much rather give their own opinion.”
  • “It’s stupid and embarrassing to give an answer before you listen.”
  • “A gentle answer quiets anger, but a harsh one stirs it up.”
  • “Observe the people who always talk before they think; even simpletons are better off than they are.”

We all think we have good things to say, and that other people need to hear them.  It’s probably true.

But listening is what gives us an audience with others.  It builds trust and credibility, and we earn the right to share.

Mockingbirds don’t know any better.

But we should – and can.

Go listen to someone today that you really care about.  Don’t have an agenda; just listen.  Period.

They might actually want to hear what you have to say.

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Speaker, Author of 5 books – including “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys,” “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions,” and “Dealing With the Elephant in the Room.” (See Book page)

  • Betty

    I hear ya!
    Thanks for these words of wisdom.