Principles of Purpose: Listen
Tentatively titled Principles of Purpose: A Guide To Living Wisely, is an ongoing draft of a concept I might one day publish a book on. It’s essentially 30 Principles that I think are essential to living life wisely. Some are principles that I wished I had learned much earlier in life. Many are principles that I only learned in recovery in 2016-2017. Still other principles were ones I had applied off and on during my 56 years.
“I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” ~ Robert McCloskeyRobert McCloskey
What Does It Mean To Listen?
What does it truly mean to listen? According to Oxford Living Dictionaries, to listen is to give attention to sound or action. When listening, one is hearing what others are saying, and trying to understand what it means. The act of listening involves complex affective, cognitive, and behavioral processes.
This definition speaks to the passive nature of listening, while the following definition, put forth by the International Listening Association, speaks to the active nature of listening. According to the ILA, listening is
“the process of receiving, constructing meaning from and responding to spoken and/or nonverbal messages”.
We often forget that listening is half of all communication between individuals. If we compare the two types of listening defined as above, is one better than the other? In the overall picture, one is better than the other in most situations, but not necessarily all.
So what is passive listening? Passive listening is hearing something or someone without giving it your full attention. It’s fairly one-sided communications with little to no feedback given to what’s being said or listened to.
Typically, a passive listener might not even nod his or her head in agreement, maintain eye contact, or give much of an indication that he or she is listening. We tend to slip into passive listening quite often and in many instances, that’s fine. Examples of this are listening to music while you do something else, attending a boring lecture or conference.
Active listening implies just what it means: we are actively engaged with another through nonverbal cues, asking questions, providing feedback, and asking questions to show another that we care. People characterize competent listeners in initial interactions as attentive, friendly, understanding, responsive, and able to manage the flow of conversation (Bodie et al., 2012).
Additionally, particular listening behaviors are linked to different attributes. For example, verbal paraphrases are associated with attentiveness and responsiveness while questions are linked to conversation management, attentiveness, and responsiveness. Nonverbal behaviors such as eye contact and composure appear related to attentiveness, friendliness, and conversation management skills.
Enough Technical Jargon
As I studied this subject a light went on in my head. I have always wondered why, upon first meeting someone, I seemed to either rub them the wrong way or they disliked me from the jump. In part it is due to the fact that I was never a good listener! This was not exactly a huge AHA! moment. But, as I have reflected over this for about a week, I realized just how bad of a listener I was (and to some degree, still am).
As far back as I can remember I’ve had a bad habit of interrupting folks. I had poor impulse control, and I think this spilled over even into my communications. It was more like I couldn’t wait to interject my two-cents; my impatience to speak handicapped me in the likability department.
Reality Dawns On Marble Head
And, it wasn’t just my impatience to speak that was a hindrance to effective communication. I was self-absorbed and self-centered. Ask an alcoholic what defects of character they have worked hard at removing, and I guarantee those two are front and center. Generally speaking, a big ego takes center stage. We alcoholics suffer big-time from Hubris, excessive pride or confidence.
A big ego keeps our malaise at bay, giving the impression that we are confident and secure. Nothing could have been further from the truth for me. In my recovery, I actually became aware of the fact that I had low self-esteem! I had low self-worth, and I was actually an introvert.
These realizations rocked the very foundation of who I thought I was. In my communications it was more important that I impress you with my intelligence, than it was I show you I was listening. I was book smart and life dumb. But, in my defense, I have also always been quite intuitive. I really did already know alot of what folks would be in the middle of saying, and I was impatient to dominate the conversations with my brilliant insights, advice, and the kitchen sink.
Just imagine, I spent a lot of my life predicting what folks were going to say, and planning my approach to my contributions to their communications! I can see how very unattractive and arrogant that made me come across as. People bored me stiff, and I couldn’t wait for them to shut the fuck up. And, to make things worse, if they didn’t pause quickly enough for me to interrupt? I would just talk over them.
I Really Wasn’t All Bad
Even though I exhibited all of the listening disabilities above, I do know that my intuition and empathy has helped lots of folks over the years. I used to shock people when, after just a brief encounter with them, they felt like I understood them. And I did give great advice. But alas, the poor execution was more damaging than anything else I can think of in my interactions with folks over my life.
Interestingly, if I was around a job long enough, the same theme repeated itself over and over through my life: folks would say they disliked me intensely when they first met me; but, upon getting to know me, they actually ended up liking me quite well. This was true in the many automotive management positions I held. Patience or interest in what other folks thought about how I was managing was usually nonexistent.
I just steam-rolled over and through them. No interest in their opinions, or sharing the stage. I was interested in results. It usually took a month or two, but I would eventually win many folks over with my charming personality. Actually, in retrospect, I think it took ME that much time to relax my guard. It took me that much time to be myself. And that’s what helped with winning friends and influencing folks.
When I Was A Killer Listener
I was usually a killer listener when I wanted to learn something. I was also killer when I wanted to earn something; as in money. I spent most of my adult life in the Automotive Industry. I gained and lost quite a number of jobs in that industry. But when I applied myself, when I immersed myself in trying to be the very best, I was deadly!
When I say deadly, I mean superior to my fellow salespeople and sales managers in volume and numbers. As a salesman, I learned very early that listening was the lynchpin to my success. I was actually an exceptional listener during the Steps to the Sale.
I realized that selling was about discovering the wants and needs of my customer was quintessential in being able to select the right products and terms to make the sale. And, as a Sales Manager, I was known as the “hammer,” because of my ability to close tough deals. It was because I had become exceptional at listening to customer objections, and overcoming them.
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I’m getting a bit wordy here, so I’ll wrap it up. Suffice it to say, in the automotive world–when I was sabotaging myself through my arrogance and indignancy–I was in the top 1%. And no, I wasn’t a piece-of-shit used car salesman; I was a polished and honest professional who took pride of how I treated my customers.
I don’t take much stock in living with regrets or the past. Most of you know that my recovery keeps me living in the present. However, I do wonder what my life would have looked like if I was the same listener in my personal life, as I was in my professional life with my customers.