This story profoundly changed the way I listen.

Here’s the setup:

My son-in-law, Nick, and my daughter recently decided, somewhat unexpectedly, to purchase a new home. This came after several conversations about them moving out of state for Nick’s job. They found a house they loved and put in an offer 5% over the asking price. The feedback they received was that there was so much interest in the home that bidding would be opened the next day until 6:00 pm, with the highest and most responsible bid being accepted and the winner notified by 10:00 pm. My first thought was, “Who would turn down an offer 5% over asking and create a bidding war?” I was about to find out.

My daughter and Nick really wanted the house, and now I understand why—it’s a lovely home with many unique features, almost new despite being over 10 years old. Because they loved it so much, they entered the bidding war and offered well over 10% above the asking price of just over $1.1 million. By 7:00 pm, they were notified that the house was theirs. Immediately, Nick began doubting himself, feeling he had overpaid. A few days later, the home appraisal came back several hundred thousand dollars less than their offer. Now they faced a quandary. Nick decided to use the undervaluation to renegotiate, claiming the bank wouldn’t loan him the full amount needed. After some negotiation, it was agreed that Nick would pay less and give the sellers his two-year-old pontoon boat. The sellers were moving because they wanted to buy a 12,000 square-foot home on the water nearby.

A few weeks later, Nick and I met the home sellers to show them the pontoon boat and finalize the deal. Throughout the home-buying process, the realtors had stressed how “Christian” the selling family was, mentioning they had buried artifacts in the walls to “bless” the home when it was built. They had prayed and taken a long walk to help them decide to accept the offer. What information did they glean from the walk that truly aided their decision, other than the high price?

As an atheist, I had been forewarned about this highly religious couple. When they arrived, they were very sweet and cordial. We took the boat out for a leisurely drive around the lake. I asked the husband what he did for a living. He said, “I sell the packaging stuff you throw away, all the little packing materials for boxes that companies like Amazon use.” I responded, “Oh, that’s awesome. How did you get into packaging?” He replied, “Well, I was in the packaging business for over 10 years. I believe God led me there. Then, 10 years later, God wrote it on my heart to start my own business.”

What he said was, “God wrote it on my heart that I needed to start my own business.”

What I heard was, “My imaginary friend confirmed what I had already decided: to start my own business.”

There were many conversations that afternoon on the pontoon, but my brain filtered everything through the perception that this man was delusional, living with his wife and their imaginary friend. God evidently told them to sell their home, buy a much larger one, and host retreats and Bible studies.

In closing, WWS-WIH means:

What Was Said – What I Heard.

My recommendation: listen intently to what people are saying, what they think, and what their imaginary friends are telling them to do.

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