Mayor plans to continue parking, infrastructure work in Wailuku

Our County

In an ancient parable, a group of blind men came across an elephant.

One felt its giant leg. “It’s a tree,” he said. Another bumped into its side and said, “No, it’s a wall!”

The elephant poked another sightless man with his tusk and said, “Ouch, it’s a spear!”

Then, the elephant’s trunk twisted across the shoulders of another, and he shouted, “It’s a snake!”

The story illustrates how our limited experience can blind us to truth. There are countless versions of this story. But, in one, each blind man is convinced he’s right and they fight to defend their “truth.” Sound familiar?

At this point, I’ll say this: They needed to listen. We all do.

Earlier this month, members of my administration and I listened during a question-and-answer session on the Wailuku Civic Complex project. The event in the Council Chambers drew more than four dozen people. County planner and project administrator Erin Wade provided a PowerPoint presentation, and then Managing Director Sandy Baz moderated public testimony.

We heard a wide range of varied comments, but based on what we heard I’m committed to moving forward with planned Wailuku infrastructure improvements and the multistory parking structure. We’ll also be listening to our community as we plan and take steps toward future project phases.

We need to get together and talk story. When we talk, let’s all work on improving our listening skills, especially doing so with respect, a local value many of us learned from our parents and grandparents growing up.

We may not agree with other people’s points of view, but they deserve to be heard respectfully. If someone speaks rudely, the listener’s normal reaction would be to go on the defensive, and that doesn’t help bring people together.

A July 2016 article in the Harvard Business Review reported that most people believe they’re a good listener if they don’t say anything, nod and say “mm-hmm.”

But the article says that falls short of really good listening. A study of the behavior of nearly 3,500 participants found that the best listeners do the following:

Instead of remaining silent all the time, outstanding listeners lead a two-way dialogue and ask questions from time to time to promote discovery and insight. “These questions generally challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way,” the article says. “Asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what’s been said, but that he or she comprehended it well enough to want additional information.”

The best listeners make a conversation a positive experience for the other person, building that person’s self-esteem and creating a safe environment for a person to share issues and differences openly.

Good listeners make their one-one-one interactions a “cooperative conversation” with neither party becoming defensive; a conversation is not a competition just to win an argument. Ideally, we should try to find win-win solutions and seek first to understand.

Great listeners give feedback and make suggestions that open alternative paths to consider.

Returning to the blind men and elephant story, what would have happened if each man had stopped, listened and compared notes. Maybe there would have been a different outcome, and they’d discover the elephant.

Perhaps we should step back, listen with an open heart and discover the elephant in the room. Then, we can collaboratively agree on how to keep Maui no ka oi.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month.

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