One of the challenges of developing one’s craft in the addictions field—or any field for that matter—is learning when to speak and when to be silent, when to make statements, and when to ask questions. Each of us has a style of communication that constitutes our personal zone of comfort. Sometimes, that zone must be extended to enhance our professional effectiveness. As someone whose mind has always been in a racing mode, my mouth is prone to move at that same pace. During much of my early career, I thought that my influence upon others came from the words I spoke and the ideas I conveyed. I viewed spoken words as the medium through which my influence and my career would advance. The result of this orientation is that one spends most interactions formulating thoughts and speaking rather than listening and reflecting. In the middle of my life, I spent most of my time talking from one professional pulpit or another trying to change the world with my words. I think of this as the noisy stage of my life.
Over the past ten years, I have reached a quiet period of my professional life in the sense that, as I have acquired greater knowledge over my career, I find I am speaking less. When people contact me now for guidance, I find what they need most is not my voice but my ears and my empathy. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a meeting filled with many speakers who I had long known and mentored at different times. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction to see how each had found his or her own voice. It dawned on me later that I had not spoken a word during the meeting and yet had the sense that I had been more eloquent in that meeting than in any conference keynote address I had ever given. Perhaps we are most eloquent when we speak through the lives of others. Who are you speaking through?