I find it unfortunate that some of the most important human characteristics are the ones that get talked about least. They never make it on to a CV, they don’t go into a recruitment pitch, yet without them, we could most probably be replaced by a machine (which, unfortunately, is what is happening to many jobs that don’t feature this requirement).
What I wanted to write about today is the most undervalued skill of all, a forgotten art… the ability to listen.
All people really want, beyond their basic freedoms and financial security, is to be heard.
The caring mother and wife, the labourer, the crying child, the angry pupil, the “uncoachable” player, they all just want to say “Hey, I’m here”. And in today’s world of social media, the same goes for the PR manager of a brand, and the entrepreneur, albeit in a somewhat different context.
Everyone has a different outlet to make themselves heard. Some people cry, some people vent their frustration through social media, some demonstrate a different show of emotion, but ultimately, they all yearn for the same thing: attention. Ironically, attention is something most people can’t afford (or won’t afford themselves), as concentration spans have been reduced to seconds and minutes as opposed to hours, days and even weeks in the age of apprenticeship and pursuit of mastery. Even when we are physically present, we are often unable to be present mentally, as our thoughts are constantly jumping on to the next errand, worry, job and deadline. For most people, being present, listening and empathising have become unattainable characteristics or skills. Yet without them, we are a dehumanised form of ourselves and the mantra of self-improvement starts smelling of bullshit. I hear the Japanese term Kaizen, or continuous improvement, being cast and thrown around far too easy, but how can we improve if we can’t tap into our basic human skills?
When we talk of listening, one should note that hearing and listening have quite different meanings. Hearing is a passive occurrence that requires no effort. Listening, on the other hand, is a conscious choice that demands your attention and concentration, and it is the latter that our environment, our choices and lifestyles have starved us of. It is a skill, once lost, that requires substantial focused and deliberate practice. I have found that meditation can help a great deal when it comes to regaining the skill of listening. Once regained, this is one of the most important skills that can help you help others. There is no better way to build relationships than to listen, as it transfers focus from yourself and places it on another person. It allows you to detach yourself from your ego.
I’m no guru, but with the benefit of hindsight, and with enough time (and willingness) to look, I now understand this, and I deliberately try to listen, devoting a part of my daily meditation practice to strengthening this skill. And believe me, it works. It builds relationships with everyone: friends, family, and clients. However, just like all other skills, it requires constant practice and evaluation. In order to remind myself, I’ve written a note of this on my wall, and it reads:
Coaching rule no. 1: It’s not about you!