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Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin
March 1, 2002 Issue

Schmooze dancing takes good listening

Good listening skills help us employ schmooze evangelization techniques

By Tom Rinkoski

photo of Tom Rinkoski
Tom Rinkoski

Schmooze. (Schmooz) Slang from the Yiddish shmuesn. Verb: 1. to converse casually, especially in order to gain advantage or make a social connection. 2. Listening intently, often asking non-invasive questions, so as to uncover and appreciate another's dreams, hopes and wishes. 3. Catholic evangelization.

As a high class schmoozer, Jesus has no need to impose his will upon Samaria or the Samaritan woman. He asks questions. He leads without a need to dominate. The best of religion has always asked questions that open doors. Jesus knows the most important thing is to listen to her.

Listening is the primary skill of good Catholic schmoozing. If we listen well, we can discover how people, families and systems work. We can discover how our values can blend together for a common good, bringing forth something much better than could ever be produced by one's will alone.

Learning to listen well, is the same as learning to dance.

I am not a great -- or even good -- dancer, (ask my wife). I have often dreamed about becoming better. I'm thinking of taking dance lessons with Theresa to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary (what do you think?). However, I have learned the dance of relationships: in marriage, in family life, and in working in the Catholic Church.

Dancing takes certain rhythm

Working a garden is a dance with nature I really enjoy. I dance with adverbs, adjectives and verbs, though I do have problems with nouns. I have watched my daughter Marie dance with the clarinet. I love hanging out with people who are good dancers (a.k.a. schmoozers). They have rhythm, move to a beat, and their language has a tempo.

All these endeavors require that I stay wide awake, pay attention to where I put my feet, participate and respond. These same principles apply to management, government and getting along with people and God. Living successfully in different worlds requires much more of us than an ability to calculate. We are back to being a good schmoozer again.

Here are five basic dance steps for the listening part of schmoozing.

Step #1. Get the beat. Watch behavior (foot work) without judgment. Learn the story of what's happening. Look and listen for patterns. Pay attention to the value of what is already there. Discover the wisdom of the other person.

Step #2. Stay open to tempo changes. Expose your mental models to the open air. Pope John the XXIII changed the church when he opened the windows. Stay humble, admit uncertainties and correct mistakes. The best parents remember they are always learning. Flexibility makes great schmoozers nimble! If you do that, you can actively listen. Well aired-out minds understand different points of view. Refrain from judging, evaluating, approving, or disapproving. That builds a safe climate for conversation and encourages others to say more because there's no risk of being found silly or stupid.

Pay attention to the sound

Step #3. Pay attention to important shifts in sounds no matter how subtle. Listening is not addition and subtraction. Remember we are Catholic schmoozers immersed, at our roots, in sacramentality and mystery. Our culture is obsessed with counting. When Theresa and I once asked our children to describe our marriage, they didn't cite numbers, dollars, or years. Don't hesitate to point toward the presence of value and meaning in what you hear.

Step #4. Ask questions of your dance partner. Let your questions expand the horizon of your caring. Paraphrase to be sure you have heard correctly. Mirror what's said to indicate you understand. Convey the attitude, "I care about what you're saying and I want to understand it.

Step #5. Celebrate what you hear. Even if it seems complex. Face it, the world is messy and Jesus did not come to erase messiness. Chaos is dynamic. It creates diversity and that makes the world interesting, beautiful - and, I think, it's what makes it work.

This week, when someone is talking, try really listening to them. Put aside your agendas and reverence God in that person. Practice every chance you get. If you are a mom or dad listen to your kids. If you are a teen, listen to an adult and see if you get what they're saying. Start with a good friend, a husband or wife, your children. Don't think of what you are going to say next, just listen. Practice the art of the schmooze. They will be astonished. I guarantee it!

(Rinkoski is the Green Bay Diocese's Family Life director.)

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