Time to find lost art of listening
Updated: May 7, 2018
Beads of sweat were dripping off his forehead as he looked at me and contemplated his answer. I had just asked him what was holding him back from the success that had seemed to elude him, even though he had been laying out the plans for months. I could see his mind turning, the beads of sweat coming more profusely. I could almost hear the internal dialogue.
Should he risk telling me. What would I think?
I knew that the question was going deep and the answer was heavy.
I waited some more, even though it was barely over a minute or two, the time crawled and it seemed like hours. I thought I knew the answer, I wanted to respond for him. I wanted to put words in his mouth, but I knew that would ruin the moment. I waited and listened. I so wanted to lift the weight with more words, but instead I was just listening and letting the silence do the heavy lifting.
There is a saying that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. How often do we rush in and talk when we should be listening, when there should be silence? So fearful are we that there could be an awkward silence that we want to rescue people in our conversations. But when we do this, we are failing ourselves and the ones we are conversing with.
Has the art of listening been lost in this digital age? When was the last time you sat down with your family or co-workers, or employees and had a real meaningful conversation?
My friends who work in plants or on job sites tell me that where there was once a lively conversation during lunch. This delightful interchange has been replaced by a bunch of people sitting around a lunch room looking at their devices.
You used to be able to sit on a plane, train or automobile and talk to the person next to you, but now, enjoyable times of interesting conversation have been replaced by movies, Facebook, games and texting. Not only are we becoming a world filled with solitary people, we are losing the ability to talk deeply, and more importantly, we have forgotten the art of conversing and listening.
"So what?" you say. "Those conversations around the lunch room, kitchen table or in the car were about nothing important anyway. Who cares if we don't talk as much or remember how to listen effectively?"
When we fail to have deep conversations, where we truly listen, then we are part of the cause of great devastation unleashed on our world. Maybe the reason for the greatest issue of our age - loneliness - is our mediocre, inconsiderate attitude, our inability to care for one another. This loneliness not only affects our whole society but some of the loneliest people are those that who run businesses.
Why are business leaders lonely? The fact is that most business leaders feel rightly or wrongly, that the success or failure of our organization, starts and ends with us. When things are going well, we feel that if we share the success, that there will be a lineup of people with their hands out asking us for more of something.
So we keep it quiet. When things are going wrong, we feel that if we share our fears, pain, or struggles we will be seen as weak or a failure and those around us will jump ship. We often feel that we don't have "safe"places to talk about things but even then, who would understand? We don't want to burden our spouses with it. Our friends don't understand. We can't talk to our employees. It seems like everyone else has their own struggles, so we don't share and we don't ask.
Joe Ferris is an expert in listening. He works with organizations to teach people the lost art of listening. He says that there are three things that we need to do if we want to make the world a better place:
1. Be curious about people.
2. Stay alert - what is going on with the person we are talking with.
3. Ask lots of questions and wait for the answers.
Joe says, we must start being curious - which involves putting aside our fear that we are missing something on our devices - and try to learn more about the person we are communicating with.
The waiting paid off for my client. Silence had done the heavy lifting and he had a profound answer that changed his life.
How about letting a compassionate silence do some heavy lifting for you this week and see what transpires?