13 Feb Why don’t you listen?
“For leaders, listening is a central competence for success. At its core, listening is connecting. Your ability to understand the true spirit of a message as it is intended to be communicated, and demonstrate your understanding, is paramount in forming connections and leading effectively. This is why, in 2010, General Electric—long considered the preeminent company for producing leaders—redefined what it seeks in its leaders. Now it places “listening” among the most desirable traits in potential leaders. Indeed, GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt has said that “humble listening” is among the top four characteristics in leaders.”
However, from my experience as a human enabler, I can vouch that not more than 10% of those who read my dear friend Ram’s blog with the intention of learning to listen will actually imbibe this rare quality of being a natural listener.
The reason very simply is that true listening is transformational. And, most of all those form-hungry boulders-on-the-shoulder leaders – self or other appointed – despite cognitively wanting to transform, unconsciously resist anything that threatens to change or transform their identity, their persona, their egoic story of ‘me’, the conditioned self that they have become. Including listening.
Ram puts this across very gently in the concluding para of his blog:
“Truly empathetic listening requires courage—the willingness to let go of the old habits and embrace new ones that may, at first, feel time-consuming and inefficient. But once acquired, these listening habits are the very skills that turn would-be leaders into true ones.”
So what are the different ways in which you block yourself from listening?Easiest would have been if you had ear-lids to shut them. But, it seems while it is okay to be discerning about what you want to see and sometimes shut your eyes, Nature doesn’t want us to ever shut our ears and stop listening. And yet, man has so marvelously been successful to do that. Most men, most of the time.
Fight or flight
Look at those seated at the back of a seminar hall. 70% of them would be sleeping. It’s not that they are any short of sleep. They have conditioned themselves to fall asleep to take flight from the tyranny of listening.
Once, the wife of a famous public speaker came up to him and begged of him to come and speak their son for he was not sleeping. When this person asked her how’s it going to help she retorted, “If you could put hundreds of them to sleep by your motivational speaking, can’t you do it with this one little child”.
Another very common method by which you take a flight, is actually taking a flight. No sooner the speaker would have opened his mouth and uttered the first few words, you would caught on to a couple of these words to escape into your own reverie constructed out of these very words. You are no more available. You are gone into some meaningless land of dreams.
Taking away eye contact to look at your computer screen, looking outside the window or even staring at the speaker with an empty look are some of the other ways by which you take flight.
I remember about a decade back, when I was attending a human process lab, the facilitator held a mirror on to me to see that no sooner has someone got prepared to speak to me, I would shower a barrage of hard hitting words which will pierce the speaker like arrows stunning him to silence. This is how I used to defend my fragility – living in glass house and throwing stones so that the other could not even dare come closer. When I look back today bemusedly to those days of blocking listening and therefore any change, I realize how wonderfully I would do so, fighting.
This is an extreme. There are many of you who would wait for the speaker to finish and then react. Not allowing any time to yourself to take in what has been expressed, leave aside reflect. I know of several CXOs doing this with the excuse that they do not have much time. And the justification that they are not meant to listen, but make others listen. How pitiable!
They are many of you who are compulsive interrupters. Even if you have learnt painstakingly to not interrupt as it is considered rude, you would still be fidgeting, moving your fingers, shaking your legs or meaninglessly nodding to interrupt non-verbally. You still are successful in disrupting the flow of the speaker. By managing to be not still.
I consult for a iconic enterprise in the space of sustainable urban development. Often, in town halls and other staff meetings I have found the employees carrying an empty look on their face and absolutely tight lipped even when they are invited to share. An uninitiated watcher will believe that they are absolutely clued-in and mesmerized by the speaker. In reality they are lost in incessant self talk.
Barring a few who have practiced with discipline to shut the self-chatter up, most of you are hapless slaves of the mind engaged 24/7 in an imagined conversation which completely distorts if not block what is being spoken by the speaker who is expecting you to listen. You could be rehearsing to respond and funnily enough respond without having completely listened. Or you could be admiring the way the speaker is speaking and rehearsing how you would do it when your turn comes. What ever is the script, 99% of what is meant to be listened by you is lost in the din of self chatter.
Caught in the content
It is believed that the mother can make sense of a baby’s babble. Yet the same mother often gets caught up in the ‘what’ of what is said without being sensitive about where the speaker is coming from and makes a mess of the message. There is something called Conscious Listening – listening with your entire presence – wherein you listen to the unsaid ‘way’ in which and the ‘location’ from where it is said. However, those of you who are too caught with the content – the ‘what’ – of the expression miss out on such Conscious Listening.
How often have you accused someone of having said something that the other genuinely believes to have never said?How often have you misquoted, misrepresented or misunderstood someone without having any intention of framing the other?
Well this is a typical case of meaning making. You use filters of meanings, interpretations and perceptions to listen through what is being said to you, thereby not only giving it color and shape but very often completely distorting the original expression.
You not only interpret what is being said but often create stories of where the speaker is coming from. Without any need of validating the speaker’s location. And having done that, having believed your interpretation to be true, you go ahead with your reaction. Most social and political complexities arise out of such filtered listening.
Listening transcends language and collapses physical distances. It connects, unites and merges energies across geographies. In love, you can communicate and listen for hours together, in silence. Even distantly. Out of love, despite all physical proximity, you fail to listen and resort to yelling and shouting.
If you are reading this, you would perhaps be saying to yourself that this is not meant for me. I know, I listen. The irony is all those who do not listen are under the mis-conception that they listen. For they haven’t really listened to themselves.
Listening is a meditative art. True listening happens in a space of still non-doing. It’s an act by which one leaves all form and its shadows to uphold ones shadowless being. No matter how much you try to ‘learn’ the ‘skills’ of listening you can’t unless you are ready to let go of your form and transform.