Learning to listen better should be a job requirement for councillors

If I have learned anything by running for Stettler County Council during this election period it is this…
I came into this election thinking that the number one problem in the County of Stettler was finances.
True enough, the councillors are spending money like drunken sailors but finances are not the number one problem…although the finances are in really serious shape.
It is not roads, although I have driven on some terrible roads while going door to door campaigning. Some roads are better, some are worse. Some are a disgrace but roads are not the number one problem.
Of course, the new shop is an issue but the anger directed towards the shop is, in my view, more of a symptom. The shop is not the number one issue.
There are a host of other issues that people have expressed to me while going door to door. Those issues are also not the number one issue, although they are important issues that hopefully will get addressed.
The number one issue in the County of Stettler is…. (drum roll please):
Council does not know how to listen.
This is not just an election issue. It is an all-the-time number one issue.
You could argue that they simply do not listen because they are too busy talking and telling us why we are wrong about what ever issue we are trying to communicate to them.
Or that they do not want to hear what we have to say because it might not agree with what they want to do.
All that could be very true but I see a County council that does not know how to listen.
Listening is a skill. Most of us are actually quite bad at it and I would include myself in that group. I would say I do recognize the problem; I am trying to improve.
Council, for sure the presently sitting council, does not know how to listen. If listening is a skill, then it can be taught. Council needs to learn how to listen.
Old dogs can learn new tricks. Or get rid of the old dogs and elect some new dogs who are trying to listen and willing to learn how to listen better.
I would suggest that councils inability (not just an unwillingness but an inability) to listen was and is the underlying cause of the majority of the ratepayer problems with the new County Shop.
Council did not know how to listen. As a result Council was unable to understand how to effectively communicate the need for the new shop to the ratepayers.
Council really did not understand their ratepayers because they had never listened to them.
Typically what we see when interacting with council members is this…we, the ratepayer, might get a chance to express our viewpoint on whatever is the issue of the day, but then the council member will tell us why we are wrong.
That is simply not listening. That is not communication because communication is mostly listening.
It seems council members love to talk. Talk, talk, talk.
So much more could be achieved by listening, listening, listening.
Sure there is a need to provide information and council needs to provide it but then stop…listen.
Listen for longer than just to catch your breath.
Listen without only thinking of how you will respond, but instead how you will understand.
How can a councillor represent the ratepayers in their Division if the councillor is so preoccupied with telling the County side of an issue (or during the election period, how wonderful they are) that there is no time to listen?
I read somewhere that if you are in a conversation with someone and you find you are talking for more than one minute without pausing to let the other person speak then you are not listening.
It is something to do with how the human brain works.
I need to improve my listening skills too but at least I recognize the problem.
Generally humans are not great listeners. I do think councillors need to learn to listen better. It should be a job requirement.
The “Talking About County Issues” meeting I held in Byemoor on Oct 5 was, I think, an example of how a new councillor could listen to the people he or she was representing.
Anyway, now it’s your turn to not only talk but be heard. I will be going around door to door from now to election day practicing my listening skills.

Rob Somerville,
County of Stettler candidate

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