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Posts Tagged ‘listen

Tell Me a Story

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On the Mindfulness of Listening

Listening is such a simple thing. How hard can it be?

But we all know that listening is harder than it appears, because listening means we have to shut up. And good listening means not just shutting up but also not using someone’s moments of speech as a time to plan counter-arguments.BarnFire-20160122

Real listening happens nine hours into a car trip, after you’ve exhausted the common topics and celebrity gossip and a silence settles. For miles. Which can feel weird. And then you pass a broken down Quonset hut and your spouse/friend/acquaintance/ride share starts in on early memory of a fire at her parent’s farm, and how all the kids huddled in blankets watching the barn in flame and hearing the gas tanks in the tractors explode one after the other and how the firemen pumped water from a pond into a little pool they created and then onto the barn. And how the whole thing left her feeling sad and, well, bereft.

It had been a kind of turning point, she says, now that she thinks about it. And then she collects memories of what was different with her family after that and how it was different. She has very specific points.

And you have not said a word. Because the fire story had and entirely engulfed you as well. You were there—as she told her story—shivering on the side and hearing the pop of gas tanks.

Most listening is not that dramatic. But sometimes it is.

We’re talking about how to listen in our social media marketing class. How to listen to the audiences and communities we want to interact with. We want to hear the concerns and the jargon and the voices and the rhythm of those voices.

It occurs to me that we listen in stages. Or perhaps we hear—or comprehend—in stages. When new to a community, we hear the words and perhaps can make out only the broad outlines of the bigger story. The more we listen, the more we hear specificities and nuance The more we listen, the more stories we hear the emotion and motivations that bind a community together.

Good listening means sitting with and through the stages so that we burrow into understanding the people of the community. Our best friends are often great listeners because they sat through the bursts of story that followed silences.

Most of us have little time for listening.

Pity.

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Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

January 22, 2016 at 8:54 am

Counterintuitive: Listening Beats Talking?

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Persuader Vs. The Persuaded

ReflectingMasoleum-2-06082015

The Russian polymath Mikhail Bakhtin—one of the titanic minds of the twentieth century, though too neglected now—believed that in a dialogue the position of primacy is with the person who listens rather than the one who first speaks. After all, he said, we do not speak unless we anticipate a response; and we shape what we say in light of possible reactions.

–Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (NY: Oxford University Press, 2011) 55

Without some listener—you see—there would be no words launched.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

June 8, 2015 at 9:12 am

I completely disagree. Are we still friends?

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How a small group helps you listen better

Say you are in a small group. Maybe you are part of a knitting guild. Maybe a book club. Maybe you meet every two weeks to study ancient texts together.

Your group comes together for some specific purpose, but along the way you make friends with these people. Sometimes these people agree with your opinion. Sometimes they disagree. But you listen to them anyway—even when you disagree. They listen/you listen because of friendship.

Tell me: how do you see it?

Tell me: how do you see it?

A few days back I wrote about a group we are part of where membership is shrinking. The take-away was that it only takes one or two people to have a conversation that is stimulating and even eye-opening, and possibly life-changing (if only incrementally). This has to do with the mechanism of hearing opinions and insights that are different from mine and stopping to consider them—because of friendship. Hearing from others is a beginning step away from the echo chambers we increasingly build for ourselves with media that says only what we want to hear.

Making friends who think and believe differently seems like a good idea. And engaging them in conversation about stuff that matters—that seems like a really good idea.

I wish we had a will to do more of that.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Extreme Listening: 4 Motivations

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If one motivation doesn’t fit you right now, check that you have a pulse

We’re not great listeners. There’s so much we want to say and we are generally desperate to be heard. And in these highly partisan times, we simply shout at and past each other and call it a conversation.

Don't let listening go unused.

Don’t let listening go unused.

But there are natural times when each of us actually does stop to listen. I count at least four:

  1. I Need Something. The most interested college students I teach are the ones who realize they need something. They are motivated to listen and stay engaged in class because they see themselves using the skill/knowledge we are talking about. I listen intently to the old guy at the hardware store because I truly have no clue why this plumbing connection will not seal. I listen because I need whatever it is the person is saying.
  2. I Want to Understand. It’s why a lot of us read fiction and non-fiction alike: we want to understand this topic and we’re willing to pay attention to this author as she or he spins out the story or argument. Wanting to understand is the motivation behind a story’s tension—it’s the hook that keeps us on the pages. We listen to our kids when they explain why they did this or that (when it seems perfectly counterintuitive to me). We sometimes listen to our own explanations and obfuscations as we try to distance ourselves from some thing we’ve done.
  3. I Want to be Close to You. “Listen, sweetheart, tell me everything about you.” The early days of romance give way over time to the growing realization that there is much we don’t know about our spouse—even after 30 years of marriage. We listen because we want to hear the perspective of our beloved.
  4. I Want to Serve. “Serve” sounds so menial, doesn’t it? And yet finding yourself in a position to help another is a primary motivation for work—at least I’ve found it so. Wanting to help beats working only for money. Wanting to help beats working to amass power every time. And wanting to serve is a sort of gift that keeps on giving. The desire to serve means listening to someone to see what he or she needs and wants. You cannot serve without listening.

If you have a listener in your life—someone who lets you spin out your argument or story and remains engaged—count yourself fortunate. I believe there’s actually quite a lot of healing in those listening encounters.

If you want to be an extreme listener tap into one of these motivations and apply it to your current situation.

Can you think of other motivations for listening?

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

May 7, 2015 at 9:38 am

Prank your colleagues with over-eager listening

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Listening-lessons from the dead

Halloween is still a couple weeks out and we’re gearing up to scare the bejeebers out of each other. Check out this infarctioninducing bus shelter in Austria. Certainly the walking dead are a scary fiction.

(The walking dead are fiction. Right?)

Here’s a way to prank your colleagues on a Monday. When they say something, get very close—inches away—and listen. It’s freaky, I tell you. Invade their personal space with wide eyes and open ears. Set your mind and fix your body to understand what they are saying, why they are saying it, and what it means.

This scary prank comes courtesy an old dead guy I’ve been reading. This old dead guy played all sorts of pranks. He was a kind of performance-art-communicator: He shaved with a sword. He drew a city on a brick laid next it for a year, packed his luggage and broke through a wall instead of calling for a camel-taxi.

Only they weren’t exactly pranks. He was hearing voices (well, a voice) and acting out what that voice said. Was he nuts? Likely his contemporaries thought so. But his culture also held a treasured place for people they considered prophets—people who seemed to speak for God. Which Ezekiel reluctantly did.

This particular listening prank came from the voice Ezekiel heard, but it also was not a prank, but a way to pay attention to the next thing he was about to see. The voice asked for careful attention because the next thing was important. And the prophet’s job was to declare it.

Be careful with this prank. Pretending to listen can become actual listening, which can be habit-forming because of the way it affects your relationships and job.

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Image credit: Taxi

What do your interruptions say?

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What are you listening for?

TowerEffigy-2-07012014_edited-2

–Adam Phillips, Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014) 10

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

July 1, 2014 at 9:00 am

More time to think: Another reason to take the bus

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More wonderfulness from lg2, Quebec

Waiting, without a screen or a book, can sometimes accomplish what you’ve repeatedly failed at. To step away from engagement—or its tiresome cousin, distraction—is to take your brain pan off the fire for a moment. All the whirring bits and quarter-thoughts collect and congeal and answers form. Not always. But often enough to make me eager for a bit of waiting nearly every day.

I’m not good at waiting, but I’m starting to see benefits.

Are you able to wait?

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Written by kirkistan

April 30, 2014 at 8:41 am

Listening has an Ugly Step-Sister: Waiting

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Surprise: She Has a Lot to Say

The problem with listening has always been the other person talking. When will they stop talking so I can talk about myself and my interests? You know—the important stuff.

And so we wait.

Tracks-04282014_edited-2

Turns out there are lots of opportunities to wait in life. Beyond waiting for our turn to talk or the sheets to dry, there are lines at the grocer, lines for on-ramps, waiting for Netflix to load, waiting to get a job/spouse/house/liver/reprieve/break/two-bedroom spot in the nursing home.

What we do while we wait—that’s key. Some say stay busy. Some say pray (seems a good strategy to me). Some say stay curious. Some say pursue your passion.

And then there is listening

Listening while you wait.

Intently.

Deep in the spinning cogs and meshed gear-works of waiting there is a mechanism that also tunes interest. If I listen intently I may just see my desire shift ever so slightly. I scraped and saved for years for a new car but when I had the money, I realized desire shifted: I didn’t want to spend it on the new car. A used car does fine, and I’ll spend that savings for the other thing that became important in the meantime.

Is this partly how prayer works: deep desire and constant asking followed by shifts in desire and asking that turns to listening?

When we wait we are ripe for deep listening.

What are you hearing while you wait?

 

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

April 28, 2014 at 9:36 am

Collaborate is the New Black

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Listening looks good on you

Work often looks like a flavor-of-the-month shop. Depending on which consultants get the ear of those with a budget for adjusting corporate culture, we could be talking about mindfulness, or total quality commitment or getting the right people on the bus—there is no end to the analogies and training seminars and tightly-packed sessions to buy.

Always these programs promise change. Sometimes they deliver.

Here's why you should care.

Here’s why you should care.

But the constant impetus behind these attempts is employee engagement. The days of just showing up to stand on an assembly line or sit in a cubicle are long gone. Putting in hours is not enough—was it ever enough?

Engagement is tricky, of course. Employees work with BS filters set on high, which is why suggestion boxes rarely worked. Everyone knew putting a well-reasoned argument on a slip of paper and dropping it in a box went exactly nowhere.

No—the will to listen, which is near the heart of collaboration—must come from within rather than without. There must be a kernel of mission that speaks to listening to the good people you’ve brought in. The trick is to find that kernel. Engaged employees have done that work, usually on their own time.

I’m excited about a particular client of mine with a compelling, collaborative mission. They’ve invested millions in a particular process that is doing something brand new in the world. My client is lining up eager collaborators from industry and from academia. They are just now setting up systems to deepen their collaboration with researchers across the globe.

But how far are they willing to go with collaboration?

Working and learning together is the stated center of their mission—and this organization lives it out in countless ways. But are they willing to make messages that reach out and pull people in—even with ongoing research? Are they willing to set themselves apart as leaders willing to share knowledge in endlessly accessible research bites that are media and social media ready? After all, my client is partnering with an industry known for its secrecy, so what will collaboration and the inevitable transparency look like with these steely customers?

All that remains to be seen.

But one thing is certain: the will and gifts and curiosity of engaged, collaborative partners and employees is the only thing that will help this move forward.

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

April 7, 2014 at 9:37 am

Mrs. Wheeler’s Back. And She’s Gone Existential.

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Fan the Wonder

Your 2nd grade teacher showed up. The one who always said “Listen to your neighbor.” She just dropped in—several decades later—but now she’s wearing a black beret, smoking unfiltered Gauloises and sipping espresso.

MrsWheeler-05212013Mrs. Wheeler is no longer concerned with making things simple for you. In the training for everyday life that was part of 2nd grade, listening was a critical skill. She thinks you’ve forgotten it today, based on how you treat people.

Mrs. Wheeler wants you to start seeing the people around you. And then she wants you to assign value to these others that surround you. Not just your gang. You already value them and you listen to them (more or less). It’s those others—those not in your group. The ones you barely acknowledge, let alone listen to. Mrs. Wheeler says a true interest in others means allowing those others to be themselves.

“Of course, Mrs. Wheeler,” you say. “How could it be otherwise?”

“Ah,” she says, smoke slowly drifting up.

And when people show up with words different than yours? Different language entirely? Or just a different set of words that are not the key words you watch for? What if these others wear clothes that are provocative? Or not at all stylish? What assumptions do you automatically process? And how do those assumptions affect how you listen?

“No,” says Mrs. Wheeler. “Pay attention. These others are saying something you need to hear. Fan whatever wonder you find.”

She slowly stubs her cigarette on the saucer.

“This is the way,” she says as she steps out your front door.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston, All Rights Reserved.

Written by kirkistan

August 28, 2013 at 5:00 am

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