Archive for the ‘ Listening ’ Category

Seth Godin on Listening

Seth Godin wrote a blog post on how to listen. I’m a big fan of Seth, but some of his pointers don’t go into enough detail to be helpful to 99% of humans, most of whom are poor listeners. In fact, some of them could easily be misconstrued and taken literally make worse listeners. Like telling someone to lift weights to be stronger, but failing to mention the specific points of safety in exercise.

What I agree with: listening is important, it is a competitive advantage, pay back with enthusiasm, don’t challenge the speaker, challenge the idea, if you disagree, wait a few moments before interrupting and good listeners get better speakers (as in, the people that are being listened to will up their speaking game).

What I have issues with: play back what you hear in your own words, in your own situation, don’t ask questions as much as make statements, make what they’re saying the foundation of your next idea, if you disagree – explain why, and that the best way to honor someone is say something smart and useful back.

Why do I have issues with some of those statements? Mostly because taken literally, it makes the experience of listing about the listener. The goal of listening is not to make yourself seem smarter or prove a point, but to really understand what the other person is saying. It’s can be good to play back what you hear in your own words or situation, and asking questions or making statements can also be good, but only if the goal is to ensure that you are succeeding at listening.  That’s why if you disagree, the first step should be to make sure you understand what they’re saying.

While I agree that good conversation builds upon itself and you should make what they’re saying the foundation of your next idea, that is a conversation skill not a listening skill. If what you’re doing is taking what they’re saying and then inserting your own ideas, you’re not really focused on them, and you’re turning it back on yourself.

All these gripes aside, I think there is a lot of truth to what Seth was saying. If I were to rephrase these for better consumption it would be:

The goal of listening should be to understand what the person is saying. If you feel unsure, it’s handy to play back what you’re hearing with your own words or situation, and get confirmation. Making a statement followed with “is that what you mean?” can be an extremely powerful tool. If the listening is part of a conversation, then making sure you’re building on their thoughts and ideas and not just taking your own tangents is powerful. If you find yourself disagreeing, first use the above tools to make sure you’re on the same page.

The best way to honor someone is to truly, deeply, and authentically listen to their words, body language, and emotions.


Gossip Police

I’ve been thinking of self challenge of quite some time. I’ll define a self challenge as a challenge that I put upon myself with the goal to increase my awareness and change a behavior for the better. Here’s my challenge:

Do no gossip

That is, don’t talk about people behind their back. I don’t mean the stereotypical gossip of “did you hear that so and so has been…” type of stuff, I mean generally avoiding speaking about people when they’re not there.

Why? Well. I think it would be good. I’m not sure that gossiping does anyone much good, and I think that if I’m civil and fair to everyone, regardless of whether they’re in the room or not, I’ll be more open minded and constructive. Additionally, I think following my challenge would constitute a pretty solid check mark in the golden rule department, which is still one of the most elegant moral systems.

Here are the rules I’m thinking of laying out (examples in parenthesis):

  • Speak no ill of anyone when they’re not there (So and so is lazy)
  • Speak no trivialities of anyone when they’re not there (So and so has a bad haircut)
  • Do Speak good of others when they’re not there (So and so is really smart at solving problems)
  • When I must speak critically of others, focus on non-judgmental observations (So and so has been coming in past 10:00am three days this week)
  • When I must speak of others, only phrase things in ways I would as if they were there (So and so is trying hard to solve the problem, but potentially is missing X or Y thing)

I had first thought that I could avoid speaking about others behind there back completely, but that is unrealistic. I have a job and a role that requires me to speak about others to solve problems for them or the company.

How hard will it be for me to keep to my five rules? Should I add another rule or rephrase them? Is it a worthwhile challenge? Should I try and log each time I break it? How should I remind myself to keep at it? And what kind of category should I put this under in my blog?

Listening in Meetings

I’ve been attending Quaker Meetings this year at University Friends Meeting (UFM). You can learn a little bit of back story about Quakers on my earlier blog post. There are three types of activities that I’ve participated in:

  1. Meeting for Worship – The (mostly) silent hour long meeting in which people speak when compelled to
  2. Adult Education – An hour long discussion group covering a wide range of topics (peace activism, brain science, role of religion in quakerism are all topics that have been touched)
  3. Meeting for Business – Once a month UFM limits their meeting for worship to about 30 minutes, the clerk then has a reading, and an agenda-led meeting about the corporate life of the community ensues

My first meeting was actually a Meeting for Business. It blew my mind. The main topic for discussion was highly controversial and sensitive but the general civility and listening of all the community members still astounds me. Nearly every point along the spectrum of opinions was represented, while everyone had a chance to speak, more importantly everyone who spoke was also listened to.

This is pretty amazing. How many times in a work meeting do we say something, but yet no one is listening? How many times is someone talking, and we’re just thinking about something else, either waiting to speak, or waiting for the meeting to be over?

Since attending quaker meetings I’ve started to pay attention to the amount people listen in meetings at PopCap. I’ve started by first paying attention to how much (or little) I’m listening, but also watched others. Additionally, I’ve tried to notice the effects of not listening. I’ve really tried hard not to ascribe judgement to non-listening and have focused solely on awareness.

My summary is this: we don’t listen much, and this causes all sorts of problems.

We waste so much time because we’re not listening. People repeat themselves (which is funny, because it doesn’t seem more people are listening on the second, third, and fourth time around), circular conversations don’t stop, idealogical differences pop up, we question peoples motives instead of looking deeper at what they’re trying to say, others can’t step in and help clarify, frustration rises, people feel unsatisfied, it’s harder to receive or give buy off, we don’t fully understand the problems we’re facing, and more.

Basically we waste our and other people’s time. If we could somehow capture the listening the quakers have instilled in the culture of their spiritual community I’m willing to bet job satisfaction and productivity would increase, we’d make better decisions and ultimately have a way more successful company.





A bit about Quakers

Since the new year, I’ve been attending Quaker meetings at the University Friends Meeting. Two things drew me to attend my first Quaker meeting. The first was a recommendation years ago by my friend Warren Etheredge. He said that everyone should go to a quaker meeting at some point in their life. The second was on Christmas eve. I was at Occupy Oakland and a Quaker there gave me a damn good hug. That hug steeled my resolve to finally take Warren up on his advice.

If you don’t know much about Quakers my advice would be to read the Wikipedia page. Basically they’re a non-dogmatic experiential spiritual group founded in Christianity that is based more on your life and actions than on beliefs. There are evangelical Christian quakers, atheist quakers, liberal quakers, conservative quakers, and convergent quakers (ones that shun labels and want everyone to get along). Some of the groups are accepting of the other groups, some less so.

The University Friends Meeting I’m attending is what is called an unprogrammed meeting. Everyone sits on benches set in a hexagonal pattern facing each other. People sit in silence until someone is compelled to stand up and say something. Everyone listens while that person speaks until he/she is done speaking, he/she sits down, and then some more silence, until someone else is compelled to speak. I’ve been in meetings where ten people speak, and one where only one person spoke in the last five minutes. About what you may ask? Well… whatever they’re compelled to speak about (whether God, Jesus, the spirit, or the inner-light is doing the compelling is up for debate)!

I consider myself very lucky to have found the Quaker meetings. The meeting has helped me examine my life in such a way as to align my moral compass with right actions, develop great introspection and listening skills, and has helped me envision a good blueprint for how I should prioritize my life.

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