Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Message #11 - Listen Up!

You have five senses. You can see, smell, touch, taste and hear. (Sticklers for scientific accuracy will argue there are more than five, but these are the traditional ones and I’m stickin’ with ‘em.)

So you have five. Do you think you use them all equally well? Not likely. Which sense, then, is your weakest? Which one has much more potential than you use? No need to struggle; I’ll tell you. You don’t take full advantage of your sense of hearing.

It’s not that the sound waves don’t reach your ears and brain. You do fine taking in the noise. You hear. The problem is that you don’t listen.

Listen Up!

You are not alone in your listening deficiency. People are not very good listeners. If fact, we’re terrible listeners. Why? Because we are usually listening to ourselves. You’re either listening to the iPod in your head that talks to you continuously or you’re listening to yourself speak.

You’re trained to speak. You take classes in Public Speaking. You should take classes in Public Listening. Your attention is on your speaking, i.e, on yourself. Yet, how you listen and how others listen to you has more impact on real communication than speaking does.

I’ve already talked about how your preconceived ideas and subjective opinions shape how you see the world. This shows up big time in listening (or not really listening.) When you are in a conversation step back for a moment and observe what’s going on. What you’re hearing is being filtered through the prism of what you already think. You’re not listening to him. You’re listening to yourself opinionating about whether you agree or disagree with what’s being said.

In the old days we would lock people up who walked down the street having animated conversations with themselves. That’s not so easy to do now because they are probably actually talking with someone on a cell phone. But cell phone or not, you are in an unending conversation with yourself. To really listen to someone else you have to remove the prism and suspend your preconceived notions. You have to listen as if for the first time.

I know what comes next. You say, “OK, I’m willing to try. How do I do it?”

You do it by being aware of what’s happening when you’re not doing it. Just remember that your natural state is to not really listen. Be aware of the conversation you’re having with yourself. With that awareness you can choose to listen free of your opinion prism. Or not.

Now, a word to you men out there. The lady wants to be heard. That’s point #1, 2, and 3. If you agree with her, that’s fine, but that’s not her main objective. If you are willing to say yes to what she’s proposing, that’s fine, but that not what she wants most. She wants you to listen to her. She wants to be heard. That’s your job. Forget it at your peril, buddy.

Just Listen Up!

By now it should be clear to you that communication is more than just sending sound waves out into the ether in the hope that they’ll penetrate a receptive ear. That’s speaking, the easy part. Then there is listening, the important part. But that’s not the end of the story. There is also an aspect of communication that is neither speaking nor listening. It’s called silence.

Antoine de St. Exupery introduced me to silence:

One silence differs from another.

There is the tranquil silence when the tribes are at peace, when night brings coolness and one seems to be anchored with furled sails in a quiet harbor.

There is the midday silence when the sun suspends all thought and movement.

There is the deceptive silence when the north wind bears down, bringing insects borne like pollen from the oases of the interior and heralding the advent of a sandstorm from the east.

There is the silence of conspiracy when it is known that a distant tribe is preparing to revolt.

There is the silence of mystery when the Arabs are gathered together for one of their secret meetings.

There is the pregnant silence when the messenger is late in returning, the shrill silence when in the night one holds one’s breath in order to hear, the melancholy silence when one remembers one's beloved.

St. Exupery teaches us that non-traditional communication is both possible and powerful. Try it out. The next time you are sitting in the silence, instead of replacing it with your internal chatter, just listen. Listen to what the silence is telling you.

It should be obvious to you by now that communication is going on all the time. It never stops. It is coming at you non-stop. You are sending it out non-stop. You are a master at non-verbal communication.

Body language is more than whether you stiffen when challenged or whether you avert your gaze when telling a lie. It’s how you walk, how you sit, what you do with your hands. It’s eye contact or the lack of it. It’s how your facial muscles move when you look at someone and communicate without words while you’re both observing another person. It’s more than what you say, it’s how you say it. It’s non-stop, 24/7, 360°, so you can’t avoid it.

What you can do is be aware of the phenomenon. Being aware gives you the power of choice. You can’t change what’s coming at you, but you can choose how to respond to it. You have the power to choose to alter how you’re communicating.

These days you are besieged by written communication. There was a time, long ago in a galaxy far away, when people would sit down, pick up a pen, and thoughtfully express themselves to a friend or relative. Quaint, no? Many even had beautiful penmanship, so the words were lovely to look at.

In the 21st Century? No way. We’re drowning in an ocean of twitters, blogs, text messages, emails, Facebooks, ads, and more. On the one hand, our new technology facilitates communication; on the other hand it makes it more difficult. Words that are written and seen, especially words written in haste, can easily be misinterpreted and misunderstood. You’ve been on both the sending and receiving end of these communications.

So what to do? When sending out a blizzard of cryptic notes keep in my mind that people who don’t know what you meant to say will see them. They will only know what you did say. Put yourself in their knickers and ask if they’re going to understand accurately the message you’re trying to deliver.

And when receiving the same kind of cryptic notes, before you let something send you into orbit or plunge you into sadness, make sure you’re interpreting fairly what’s being said. Ask for clarification before you pour lighter fluid on the flame war you think is underway.

Don’t fall into the trap of interpreting ‘listening’ narrowly. It’s true that ‘to listen’ is an important action, a verb. But how you interpret what you’ve heard is even more important. It is who you are. It is the ‘listening’ you are, a noun. It’s the context for what you hear. I know this is grammatically awkward, but just follow what I’m saying.

Also, the listening you are is the context for your speaking. The listening you are determines what you’re going to say. It dictates what you’ll be thinking in the silence. It decides what twitter you’re going to send.

Think about it. How could it be otherwise? How can you be different than you are? Not possible. Wait, you say. Does that mean I’m cast in concrete and can’t change? Not at all. It’s like being aware of the communication that’s coming at you. Being aware gives you the power to alter who you’re being – or not. It’s your choice.

So Listen Up!


Anonymous Sandra said...

This is a great blog. I guess it is another chapter in the other book you are in the middle of writing. But this particular point is really key to what is going on today..... You could develop this further.

11:49 AM  

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