“Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, and but one tongue—
to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak.”
~Socrates (c. 469 BC – 399 BC)
There is nothing more timely than ancient wisdom. What was true in Socrates time over 2400 years ago, must be even truer today in our age of Internet, Satellite television, Skype, Facebook, smart phones, and talking heads shouting in our ears. Those who seek sanctuary to meditate and quiet the mind find it next to impossible in a world in which constant chatter invades our private space. To avoid drowning in the noise, people talk back in self-defense, until all the world is talking, and very few are actually listening. It is comical to see this happening sometimes in cafes when everyone at the table is talking at once, a mini-drama enacting out the larger drama happening on the world stage.
Getting back on the same page
We have gotten so distracted that we are not no longer on the same page, we are not even on the same channel. Remote control and easy access to unlimited channels has seduced us into making this easy escape any time we get distracted or bored. This problem is serious in schools, where flitting minds outrun teachers like jackrabbits. The modern attention span is so short, that the average visitor to a website makes the decision to stay or click away in just 3 seconds. That is ten times shorter than the already super-brief 30-second elevator speech.
While it is definitely harder to get and keep people’s attention today, it is even more important in business to connect with the people who matter most, your customers and your collaboration partners. The first thing to do is to get back on the same channel, then at regular intervals to get on the same page and communicate about what you see. The channel might be Skype or your smart phone, but the page is more likely to be a document, a slide presentation, a spreadsheet. The challenge is that information can get so complicated spread across multiple documents, that it is easy to lose track of the big picture. GOALSCAPE Connect is a perfect way to get and stay on the same channel and page with your collaboration partner on any project, and any level of detail. And you can show the Big Picture to others in presentations on a big screen or a tablet, enabling them to join you on the same page.
Beware the memory trap
Memory is fallible. It can even be called ephemeral, because the details fade quickly. We tend to fill them in with different details which we think are right, which we have selected as important, or simply because the wires got crossed. Memory can be a trap.
Memory is deceptive because things seem so clear at the time, we feel so certain we will remember them just as clearly. Hansel and Gretel could teach us a lesson, for he laid breadcrumbs on the path so that he and his sister could find their way back out of the forest, not realizing that the birds had eaten them, every one. Understanding does not equal recall. There is false security in a paper trail, or an e-mail trail, particularly when you try to retrieve it among shifting subject lines. What started out as RE: abc, over time under the same subject line can turn into talk about xyz. More snares for the memory trap.
The Art of Active Listening
One of the best ways to become an active listener, and to improve your memory, is to become a great notetaker. This is an art in itself, but without active listening your notes will suffer from a lack of discoveries, insights, and original observations.
Given that active listening is an essential skill for students to become active learners, Joe Landsberger created a site called Study Guides and Strategies, which contains excellent advice on active listening and other learning skills. His active listener matrix shows four factors that affect the quality of listening, Subject Complexity, Speaker, Environment, and Presentation. The accompanying questions reveal how highly interactive active listening can be. They also show how important face to face conversation is compared to the on screen or text message communication which has become so common today.
Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story, by Peter Guber is a bestseller that has won high praise from people like President Bill Clinton, Daniel Pink, and Muhammed Yunus. Movie producer, sports team owner, and professor at UCLA, Peter Guber shows how story has the power to melt resistance, move hearts, and catalyze business success. Even this master storyteller highlights the importance of active listening in communication saying, “…the more time I spend getting them to do the talking—to tell me their story or, as it may be, their problem—the better able I am to reshape my story to address their specific challenge.”
Now retired University of Maine researcher Dr. Marisue Pickering articulated 10 skills for active listening, skills which a person so intended can learn, practice, and master.
- Attending, Acknowledging
- Restating, Paraphrasing
- Summarizing, synthesizing
- Giving feedback
- Checking perceptions
- Being quiet
Research on the techniques and attitudes required for active listening show it to be a skill as engaging as playing a sport. This should be good news for people whose mind is so active that they often end up talking more than they listen. It is possible to get better at both.
A New Age for Collaboration
Howard Rheingold, writer, artist and designer, theorist and community builder, delivered a humorous and insightful talk on TED.com called The New Power of Collaboration. A long-time observer of technology and its implications for communities, he will get you thinking about what all of the coming technology might mean for you in terms of collaboration. Particularly appealing is his idea that evolution, or at least our understanding of it, is moving away from competition for domination, and toward cooperation for survival.
Find a worthy person as a collaboration partner, open your ears, your mind, and your notebook, and see how incredibly much there is to learn.
—William Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.