I read an excellent article by Bella Bathurst for Aeon Magazine, and want to share it with you for our Managing with Aloha and Language of Intention reflection.
Bathurst titled her essay “How to Listen” and it’s mostly about how the hearing impaired will compensate for their hearing loss with better listening. For example,
For those with more serious loss, the decline of one sense often strengthens others. Watch anyone who has had hearing problems for a while and it’s obvious that they are listening differently. They listen with the whole of themselves, bodies turned towards the speaker, drinking in cues. They don’t hear so much as inhale, taking in everything from the expression in the other person’s eyes to the story told by their hands.
Shift that one paragraph to the workplace, where managers can struggle to read between the lines when their people close off, and become less than forthright with them (or the other way around.)
The “managing with Aloha way” is to listen for their values in what they will say, and to work on creating a culture where this happens: Speak up, I’m listening.
However, wanting to hear them must be there, steeped in our ALOHA intentions. As Bathurst describes, we must listen in a visibly different way, so that people feel our intention, and believe we want to hear them for all the right reasons. We “listen with the whole of [our]selves, bodies turned towards the speaker, drinking in cues. [We] don’t hear so much as inhale, taking in everything from the expression in the other person’s eyes to the story told by their hands.”
And then, most important of all, we respond in a way that will validate and reward the other person’s belief and trust in us.
You can read the entire article here: Bella Bathurst for Aeon Magazine.
1. Learn to Listen Visually.
To understand listening, it helps to understand hearing. Physically, the process is broken up in three ways. Firstly, in mechanical form through the ear, the nervous system, and the brain. Secondly, in the form of high-, mid- and low-frequency sound-waves. And, finally, there are two different sorts of hearing: conductive (the vibrations made by sound travelling through the body, the clearest example being what you feel when you hear a cathedral organ) and sensorineural — the messages fed through and processed by the inner ear and cochlea.
To appreciate fully the impeccable splendour of the human auditory system, the best thing is to go deaf for a while.
We, the hearing fortunate, CAN learn to listen visually:
I do read facial expressions a lot. I remember being in a taxi with a friend, and when we got out she said, “Wow! Could you hear the driver?” I said, “Not a word.” She said, “But you were following the conversation.” I wasn’t — I was just watching his face in the mirror, and when he said something serious, I’d go “Oh dear,” and when he said something a bit more animated, I’d go, “Oh right!” I could catch the tone of his voice and if he was moving his hands, and I was using that. It’s like people speaking in a foreign language — you don’t know what they’re saying but you can follow the mood of it, whether it’s a good conversation or they’re having a fight, and you can pick up on the body language.
2. Don’t Dumb Down your Sense of Place.
The concept of “dumbing down” our hearing really got me thinking about several workplaces I’ve visited recently. Bathurst relates the concept to music, and what she learned from noise consultant Rupert Taylor, who has been writing, lecturing and advising on acoustics since the 1960s:
And, perversely, it is often those who love music most who are most inclined to obliterate their sensitivities at festivals or gigs. Hidden behind the problem of volume is the issue of amplified music. Most people are so used to hearing boosted or electronically remastered music that they’ve rarely heard it in its natural state. ‘It’s like the difference between instant coffee and coffee made with beans,’ says Taylor, ‘It’s a spatial difference. The experience of listening to acoustic music in a hall is a three-dimensional thing and there’s virtually no 3D in electronically reinforced music. It’s an unfortunate metaphor, but our hearing is being dumbed down.’
What are the long-term consequences of that dumbing? ‘You lose a dimension from one of our senses. Or two dimensions.’ Everyone ends up with an unspecified sense that something’s missing, but they can’t work out what it is…
There are several ways we dumb down our workplaces physically (in the environmental atmosphere of our places), and we fail to correct them because there are other “more pressing matters” to deal with. A faulty, and sometimes damaging Sense of Place remains a much lower priority than it should be, and over time we settle — we accept physical limitations. Revisit the importance of MWA Key 8, Sense of Place here: A Sense of Place Delivers True Wealth.
The other biggie example of dumbing down a workplace which came to me? The assumptions we make, and then will accept as a sweeping generalization of “just the way things are” which is very rarely so! Banish your Possibility Robbers. See, and hear, The ‘But’s Which Work to Favor
3. Be a Musician. Play better, to Listen Better.
When I read this next passage, my immediate thought was: Every Alaka‘i Manager can be a workplace musician! We can be this perceptive if only we set our Aloha intentions toward being so:
Audiences might not be fully conscious of the change in their listening, but musicians certainly are. So how does the way musicians listen differ from the way non-musicians do? Alex South, a member of the Scottish Clarinet Quintet and a research partner at the Science and Music Research Group at Glasgow University, put it like this: ‘There’s listening to yourself and listening to others, listening for tuning and your place in the harmony, feeling the beat and feeling your rhythms and how they synch with others. Listening to the beginnings and ends of notes within your section in the orchestra, listening to accents, degree of separation of notes, listening to dynamics and phrase shapes. Listening to tone colour and attempting to match your sound to it, listening to the intake of breath of your section principal or the French horn player sitting next to you, listening to any or all of these things holistically or “atomistically”.
‘As you learn to play your instrument better, you learn to listen better. Your ability to produce distinct kinds of articulation goes hand in hand with the ability to distinguish them by ear. But more than this — your ability to distinguish by ear is felt in your body as a set of kinaesthetic responses, memories and anticipations.’ As a form of listening, ‘it’s probably more active, detailed, precise [than that of a non-musician]. You listen for cues, you’re aware (consciously or unconsciously) of tiny fluctuations in tempo and tuning. You might be more aware of the structural aspects of the piece. Perhaps the flip side is that it’s harder to lose yourself in the music, to be swept away by it.’
True music, South suggested, occurs when the individual listening of each player harmonises with the whole, and all the other elements — the players’ skill, their familiarity with the piece, the condition of their instruments, the gap between what they’re feeling and what the music is trying to express — reach a point of perfect synchronicity.
4. Devote the Energy Listening Requires.
Listening can sometimes be hard. It doesn’t matter what degree of hearing loss people have, or how long they’ve had it, every single one of them says the same thing: it’s tiring. When your ears and your brain are having to work much harder both to get the sounds in and then to turn them into a comfortable and comprehensible form, then you’re using up a lot of energy. If your listening is as skilled and nuanced as a musician’s, it can be exhausting.
6. Listen better to get comfortable with Silence.
Yet there’s another very valuable reward for our efforts: We newly understand why “Silence is golden.”
In fact, those who have trouble hearing are often highly skilled listeners, fluent in acoustic variation and the power of sound in a way that few fully hearing people ever are. Most of them also have a different relationship to silence. All silences have their own personalities — contented or meditative, empty or replete. If there’s a whole force-field of difference between a couple unspeaking in anger and a couple unspeaking in love, then there’s also a huge variation in the silence generated both by lots of people silent in a space such as a Quaker meeting or a Buddhist meditation practice, and the silence of space itself.
True silence outdoors is as rare as it is inside, especially in a place like Britain, fizzing with people and movement. Even if there is no road or aircraft noise, then there are the susurrations of trees, leaves, grasses, birds, insects — the sounds of life in the process of living. These are the sounds that are probably most endangered and least listened to. It isn’t that we can’t hear them; it’s just that, so often, they’re hidden by the white noise of our own thoughts. More than anything, more than planes or drills, it is that soft blanketing snowfall of our own intelligence that blocks our ears. Go for a walk in the country and what you hear is not the clank of geese or the cows on their way to milking; it’s your own head.
And in the end:
Almost everyone has things they don’t want to hear: their son’s fights, their partner’s rants, the high-stakes stuff about debt or divorce or mortality. But there’s a difference between offering someone a better connection and knowingly taking another man’s poison. And sometimes it takes a lot more energy not to listen to someone than it does to hear them out. If you completely listen, then you completely open yourself. And that, in the end, is probably the scariest and the most exhilarating thing you’ll ever hear.
Related Reading in addition to the links offered above:
- Getting the Old to Become New Again
- Listening Alone Does Not Humility Make
- All Conversations Are Not Created Equal
- Managing: Learn how to ask “Why?”
- Trusting Your Intuition
For more reading paths, go to New Here? or click on the tags found in the footer.