What do you hear around you right now?
I’m standing in the Sky Club in Atlanta on a day of complete travel meltdown for Delta, and here’s what I hear around me right now:
- Some dude-bro behind me on the phone having a conversation I don’t understand most of. Yes, it’s in English. Sort of.
- A low-level cacophony of other voices from all over the room.
- A three year old telling an awesome story to her Mom.
- Ice being scooped into glasses at the bar. Glasses clattering.
- Flip flops and luggage wheels of someone walking by.
- Jet engines.
- Laughing teenage girls over in the corner (see, the flight delays are fun for SOMEONE!).
- Rustling of papers.
- Clicking of the keys on my computer keyboard.
- The “meep” of desk agents checking people in.
I try to do something like this as an exercise at least once a day by really focusing on all of the sounds that I hear around me. It’s often something I do in the mornings when I’m out walking with Olivia, and I do consider it a form of meditation to just focus on all of the sounds that are there. It forces me to really, deeply listen to what is going on around me.
It’s want to believe that deep listening in my environment is transferrable to those times when I need to have serious conversations, be it with colleagues or with patients and families. It forces me to focus on that one sense and on the things that are around me, and when I’m in a quiet room with one or two other people, it allows me to move past all of the possible distractions that are out there.
We all have heard so much advice about how to be a great listener (in the interpersonal sense), and a recent HBR article indicates that pretty much everything that we’ve all learned is just plain WRONG. Good listening involves asking critical questions, building self-esteem, having give and take, and making meaningful suggestions. That idea that you get to passively nod and smile and be considered a good listener? Nope. It’s not that at all. It’s much, much more challenging than that because it requires not just listening but communicating effectively.
One of the aspects of the article that I particularly appreciated was the idea of levels of proficiency in listening. Since we all almost certainly overestimate how good of a listener we are, the levels in the article give us a guide for our listening aspirations.
And perhaps the one piece of advice for Level 6 is the most important part of being a good listener- it is NOT about you. Easy to say, and again, hard to do.
I challenge you to listen differently this week in just one little way. Maybe it’s ignoring your phone while you’re in a meeting or having coffee. Maybe it’s staying curious about something you are being told and being brave enough to ask a question. Maybe it really is “just” listening and expressing support for someone in a challenge they want to take on.
And that listening exercise we started with? Highly recommended. It can be fascinating.