LISTENING – THE LOST VIRTUE OF MODERNITY
Last Sunday morning, I was having breakfast with my wife at one of the restaurants in a trendy part of Joburg. The place was quite full and what fascinated me was the amount of people browsing on their smart phones, totally disengaged from those around their table. I even saw a mother working on her laptop with her two children in attendance. One would have thought that going out for a meal, accords you the opportunity to catch up with those close to you and engage in meaningful conversation, given our sometimes hectic lives during the week.
This observation once more made me realize that we are indeed living in the age which Linda Stone, a former executive of Microsoft termed “ the age of continuous partial attention.” People engage in a multiplicity of activities on a continuous basis, their minds scattered all over the place and give superficial attention to what they are currently doing. This is often done on the false premise of being productive, yet at the expense of other critical priorities. The implications of this phenomena at a relational level are huge, when left unchecked. If you are not present in the moment, it can hamper your ability to develop interpersonal relationships that are deep, real and meaningful.
Thomas Friedman states that our world moved through various phases; progressing firstly from the agrarian, then industrial, followed by the information age. He termed our current phase “ The Age of Interruption.” It is an indisputable fact that necessity is the mother of invention. In our modern world some ground breaking inventions came to market in response to real needs out there for example smart phones, artificial intelligence, robotic surgery, a GPS in your car,….? Never in the history of mankind have we been so technologically connected yet relationally, dangerously disconnected.
At a personal level, let me state up front that I cannot imagine my life without connectivity, but one cannot deny that especially in the information and multimedia space, modern technologies became quite disruptive in a negative sense. We can so easily disrupt each other with unnecessary and unimportant things through these platforms. Once the phone vibrates, even in the middle of an important engagement we feel obligated to respond, which in itself can trigger a whole host of other activities, diverting our attention away from a current priority. I don’t even want to touch the downside of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like; let’s leave that debate for another day.
LISTENING TO OTHERS HELPS OTHERS TO LISTEN.
One of my mentors used to remind me that my Creator intentionally gave me two ears and one mouth. In order to be effective in life, I need to listen twice the amount that I am prepared to speak. Given the prevailing circumstances in our culture as described earlier, we most of the time hear each other but not really listen to one another.
One of the most underutilized tools in the armory of a leader, is the art of listening. There is nothing that can enhance your influence more than people feeling that you care and take the time to comprehensively listen to them, without any preconceived notions. Resist the temptation to offer advice on a ‘’ cut and paste approach “ without having a full grasp of the matter at hand. The wise King Solomon said in Proverbs 18:13 “ He who answers a matter before he hears the facts; it is folly and shame to him.” Also listen to the unspoken hurts, cries, anxieties, hopes and pain; allow space and opportunity for it to be ventilated. It’s quite interesting to note that the same letters that spell the word listen also spell the word silent. Attentive listening is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to another human being.
There are also times of listening that are uplifting and celebratory in nature. Some of these moments are usually disguised in the simple things in life. Just completely chill and absorb the atmosphere. If you are not present in the moment, you might lose out on a life defining opportunity.
It warrants a conscious and deliberate decision if you do not want to lose from a relational perspective, the important virtue of listening with intent occasioned by the distractions of our modern age. Doing life together with others, is a communication intensive journey. The better we have an understanding of the other person’s feelings and aspirations, the better the chance of them understanding our feelings and aspirations. By so doing, we can co-create a common purpose. This will result in mutual respect, being comfortable to deal with conflict when it arises, enhanced influence, close companionship and an improved quality of life.
Mike Myatt states “ Want to become a better leader? Stop talking and start listening. Being a leader should not be viewed as a license to increase the volume of rhetoric. Rather astute leaders know there is far more to be gained by surrendering the floor than by dominating it.”