On Listening; you’re not

The web is a-buzz with self-help of the auricular persuasion. But is the underlying message—you’re doing it wrong—the best note to leave the conversation on?

As I write this, an intricate and finely-carpeted cubicle structure is being assembled behind me. Collectively, there are more sounds than I can digest: hammers, pieces of metal being inserted into the wall, and hand saws chewing at long metal bars that are topped with plastic runners that make a sharp snapping sound. Not to mention the roaring dissonance of my wireless computer mouse wreaking havoc on my digital workspace, scrolling through pages wildly and without cue yet quietly demanding new batteries.

This is before, and in between, any actual conversation I have with my coworkers.

And this is my qualm with articles on listening that have come across my desk lately: there is more to listening than the two-way between individuals.

Case in point: lifehacker’s recent article on how to develop listening skills, entitled, “You’re Not Listening,” places the emphasis on the readers’ incomplete understanding of listening before narrowing the topic to the relationship between bosses and employees or between coworkers. Indeed, the article promises that “a decent amount of your professional misery is based on the simple act of one person misinterpreting the intent of another” and offers tips to restore good meeting etiquette. Forbes recently published a similar style of article, coupling listening skills with management skills.

Okay, yes, work-related meetings are integral arenas for communication. But what if you’re stepping into that arena with a clouded and stressed mind? What if two sweaty men are building a cubicle behind you and your mouse doesn’t work and then the wi-fi gives out?

Listening, put in the context of “how to play the game of work,” distills a much more nuanced activity into tips for your career. Further, pigeonholing listening in this way seems counterintuitive to a burgeoning movement to incorporate mindfulness at work—the Financial Times reported last month that a quarter of major U.S. companies have some form of stress-reduction program in place. Taking that into consideration, it seems that listening deserves a broader context, one that takes into account all of the things that take place before we actually meet with colleagues or chart out our professional path to success.

Maybe the most conscious way forward, to get into the subject of listening, is to begin with a motto we use in-house to describe how we view you, the audience. That is: you are fine, just the way you are. We don’t have three quick tips to get you listening to Harvard Lectures, or seven ways to lose weight in seven seconds. Other people have that market cornered, and quite frankly—speaking really on my behalf here—I would like to be able to start from a point of understanding: that we all want to improve ourselves in some way. But we have to start from something bigger than tips. We have to start from the idea that we are all basically good. We just have a lot going on in our lives, and that can cloud out simple activities like listening to one another.

Proceeding from the point of listening as a nuanced activity, here is a selection of stories from our website.

The Mindful Office/mindful listening: Mirabai Bush, founder of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, offers a short mindful listening meditation to help you practice the art. While her new CD, Working with Mindfulness, is all about the workplace, her approach begins with the breath and becoming aware of individual sounds—not necessarily made by humans, let alone coworkers. She begins by asking you to focus on the sound of a bell, then, individual sounds around the office.

Deep Listening: To really listen to others, say David Rome and Hope Martin, we must first learn to listen to ourselves. They teach us three techniques for tuning in to body, speech, and mind.

Stop, Wait, Go: The hardest part of communicating well is knowing when to speak, when to be quiet and when to wait and see. Communication trainer Susan Chapman shows us how mindfulness can help.

Wholehearted Listening—How we listen affects how we are heard: Mindful.org “On Education” blogger Tish Jennings  writes about how the practice of mindful listening can dramatically improve teacher-student relationships.

There is no path to peace. The path IS peace: Thich Nhat Hanh addresses U.S. Congress about changing our society’s foundation of violence. With deep, compassionate listening and loving speech, he says, we can bring harmony to our families—and our communities can become communities of understanding, peace and happiness.