Archive for the ‘listening’ Tag

Connecting, or not

There’s another side to the argument I presented yesterday, where I claimed that the lack of buzz around one’s blog is not a reason to quit it. A few days after Godin asked if anyone’s listening, David Armano returned this question: “Have we thought about talking back to people or are we really just interested in telling our stories?”

Not much is so laughable as a harangue carried on in a vacuum. We’re here on this plane together, and we are responsible for one another, and success lies in serving others. We all know people who can’t talk of anything but themselves, who have no skill at listening, and who are so self-absorbed as to be useless to anyone else.

Perhaps there’s a difference between telling your stories and making suggestions about lifestyle, but no need to split hairs here. Lack of conversation means lack of engagement. And failing to engage your listeners is failing at the root of the matter.

As Seth suggested, maybe they’re just not ready to listen. This is the thought that comforts every obscure thinker. While this may be a fact, it’s actually no excuse. If your message is as compelling as you believe it to be, it must be your mission to meet the minds of your audience, and make a connection where none was possible heretofore.

In short, no message is more important than compassion. I will take this as my mantra in the days ahead, and seek to be more fun and rather less intense as I continue these writings. Perhaps someone out there will be so kind as to let me know how I’m doing.

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Emptiness

One more post about listening before we let this topic lie for awhile.  We’ve looked at the importance and efficacy of listening.  We’ve talked about ways to incorporate regular listening in your daily life and business.  We’ve pointed out that listening can make the difference between success and failure in business.  (Can’t resist suggesting here that y’all watch a new YouTube video – “There’s no control, no leadership, only influence.”)

Before we let it go, this is a little meditation on how to listen.  Most of us are so out of practice that we really have no idea.  Our own internal monologue roars on and we’re oblivious to the fact that it blocks out much that we could benefit from.  We’re repositories of our life experiences and mainly spend our time being pushed around by those echos in the consciousness.  Listening requires hushing up this internal monologue, so that openness may be achieved.

You know the famous anecdote of the zen master whose student asked, How can I learn the truth?  And the master poured a cup of tea for the student, but did not stop pouring when the cup was full, so it overflowed all over the place.  Why did you do that, master?  In the same way, said the master, you are so full of your own thoughts that I can not fill you will the truth.  Go empty yourself, and then the truth will have room to enter.

It’s that simple, and that terrifyingly complex.  To be a listener, you must be willing to empty yourself, you must be willing to set your ego aside.  So learning how to listen is a lifelong endeavor.   For those who have never tried this, take some time this weekend to do something either completely relaxing or completely fascinating.  Notice how when you forget about yourself, in those rare moments when self-consciousness disappears, you are truly listening; and that is the kind of attention profound listening requires.

Listening practices for business

So how does listening manifest in business?  Two basic ways:  listening as the foundation of customer relations, and listening as the structure of management.

Hopefully, we’ve all experienced the business that listens well to us as customers.  Soliciting customer input, attentiveness to customer problems and needs, adapting products to suit customer preferences are all examples of proper business listening.  This extends to affiiates and vendors, as well; the business that’s continually seeking a more perfect segue, that adapts to create win-win deals, and that stays wide open to new opportunities from the outside is a business that’s likely to benefit significantly from its listening practices.

What about listening as it pertains to management, staff relations, and the productivity of your organization?  Managers that are careful listeners will anticipate problems and respond to needs in ample time to steady any dangerous situations.  So listening is an important ongoing daily practice for leadership. 

The performance evaluation is a venerable tradition that’s often neglected, especially in small businesses, but it’s a listening practice that can make the difference between a happy staff and a restless one.  At least every six months, management and staff should share a tete-a-tete, during which feedback is freely given on both sides, and the discussion spills over into personal life as it relates to work.  The opportunity to communicate the simple ‘here’s how I’m doing’ is invaluable, and without this regular ‘checking in,’ managers quickly lose touch.

Now, the truly advanced operation will include even more obvious listening practices.  Here are some outrageous suggestions that could very well become standard in the business of the future:

  • Each day starts with t’ai-chi, yoga, stretches or other physical enlivening of the entire staff together.
  • At several regular intervals throughout the day, a bell is rung and all staff keep silence for one full minute.
  • At least every six months, staff retreats are held off-site, and include meditative, teambuilding, and discussion activities.

Please note that these suggestions apply as well to the solopreneur as to the fully staffed business.

If we plan to survive in relative happiness as the 21st century progresses, we’re going to have to narrow the alienating gap between our existence in business and our lives as individuals.  We can use listening as the path to wholeness as we seek the synthesis of who we are with what we do.

Listening and emptiness

In my post the other day, I identified listening as an essentially female characteristic.  Allow me to clarify:  it is a characteristic of the female, and the female as well as the male exist in varying measure within each of us.  A business that values listening values its female-ness but is not necessarily run by the fairer sex.

Listening is female in that it is emptying out of self, allowing an inner hollowness so that information can freely flow.  In order to be a good listener, you have to silence yourself, and your crazy monkey thoughts.  You have to have enough confidence in existence to let yourself be an open receptacle without fear of annihilation.  You have to see yourself in context with your surroundings, a puzzle piece but not the whole picture.  You have to be continuously open and compassionate.

Did you read “A True Story About a Chair?”    While the industry analysts pull their hair out over how to solve company issues, a lone woman from the communications department returns to simple basics of listening, and rocks the business world. 

Listening requires dedicated ongoing practice in quieting yourself.  Bear in mind the important truth: we are given two ears and just one mouth so that we may listen twice as much as we speak!

Tomorrow, I’ll wrap up the week with specific ways your business can listen.

Listening practices

I talk a lot about listening in these posts, because it’s a huge part of successful business and a huge part of successful lives as well.  But it is not a well known practice.  We’re traditionally taught to work myopically towards our goals, to plow through obstacles, to attain against all odds.  The problem with this tactic is that it cuts us off from reality and we can easily find ourselves up the creek and paddleless.

The old way is grounded in the philosophy that man is the master of his destiny.  The new way stems from understanding that people collectively are responsible for the planet and for all our lifestyles.   We are damned individually, but saved only collectively.  This is a sophisticated understanding, one we’re only just beginning to assimilate.

Listening requires the ability to establish inner quiet, the willingness to observe without judgement, the personal strength to allow openness to any and all stimuli. 

Listening should be applied to your inner self, to the movements of your personal energies and emotions.  This can be done through quiet times, meditation, journaling.  And listening should be applied much more regularly in relations with others.  The Quakers teach an awesome practice in which the listener asks questions, but only those questions that will help the speaker, and never just to satisfy the questionner’s curiosity.  Such intense and compassionate listening is designed to honestly help the speaker.

In business, listening translates into several practices that benefit leaders and workers alike.  Making listening an important part of organizational structure means that the business

  • is keenly tuned in to customer reactions;
  • works smoothly and harmoniously with vendors;
  • anticipates personnel problems before they arise;
  • has a well-appreciated and confident staff;
  • tends to be tuned in to world events, and ready with solutions whenever possible;
  • can quickly respond to new opportunities because of an intimate connection to all working parts.

More anon on this subject.