Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Art of Total Communication: Listen With More than Your Ears

For my vocation, diplomacy, and my avocation, writing, a skill that is essential to success is the ability to listen. 
Now, I have to confess that giving my full attention to people when they’re talking is something that I could be better at.  I’m often multi-tasking when talking to people, or when I’m at some gathering, I’m involved in more than one conversation at the same time, and that’s frankly rude.  I know it, and people who know me well, know it too, and at least on the surface, forgive me for it.
I’ve been that way most of my life, and find it hard to change – although, I do really, really try.  I have the unfortunate ability to listen to two or three conversations at the same time, and sort them out in my mind – and often, recall them days later.  If only I could remember where I put my reading glasses as easily, or the names of my nephews and nieces.
Another thing I do that might seem strange is; I listen with my eyes.  That’s not a joke either.  Most of us do it, but are unaware of doing so.  I just happen to know that it’s possible, and work at it.  If you don’t think I’m serious, the next time you’re in conversation with someone, pay attention to what you do.  If they’re giving you numbers, or dry details, you’re probably not really paying them much attention; but, the minute they begin to talk about feelings, decisions, or anything you consider important, what do you do?  You fix your eyeballs on them; watching their facial expression and body language.  I don’t know the exact percentage, but I’d estimate that we get more than half of the meaning of a conversation through what we see rather than what we here.
And, that’s what I mean by listening with my eyes.  Work on improving this ability, and you’ll find the amount and quality of information you gather will increase.  While you’re at it, learn to hear without listening, another skill that comes in handy regardless of your profession or pursuit.  This is a Buddhist meditation exercise I do frequently to help myself relax.  I stop trying to listen to discrete sounds and merely open my ears and allow all sounds to enter.  You’d be surprised at how many different things you can hear, and understand, when you don’t strain to listen.  It’s like the difference of relaxing and looking at the scene around you, instead of squinting to see a particular object – an exercise that blocks or blurs the rest of the vista.  Don’t believe me?  Try it.
What I’m getting at here is, communication is not just a verbal, mouth-to-ear, process, but one that involves every sensory organ, and the rest of our body as well.  If you’re a journalist or diplomat, developing these skills will improve your performance.  If you’re a writer, you’ll see more of the world around you with the clarity that will enable you to more skillfully interpret it for your readers.  So, open your eyes and hear what I’m saying.