MISCELLANEOUS WRITINGS | 2017 EDITION | VOLUME 102
It doesn't matter what gadgets you can afford, have, or flaunt. In this age of digital vanity, a low listening IQ or vibe that screams “Warning: I'm not listening” is hardly a sign of good mental health.
It's a sign that no matter the optics — how rich, well-groomed or pretty one appears in person as well as virtually, or perfectly they sound — one is likely to find deep unhealthy insecurities, dysfunction, hidden failures, unhappiness, emptiness, or all of the above, if they actually scratched the surface.
Good listeners by contrast, are happier, more fulfilled people. And in the case of Zimbabwe's new President Mnangagwa who quickly reshuffled his cabinet following complaints, good listeners make smarter, more accountable leaders, too. Dubbed “the world's most educated leader” his predecessor Robert Mugabe meanwhile, had seven degrees. And yet was a notoriously selfish, tone-deaf dictator.
I have relatives who contact me to “tell” me something. When this is always your default, listening to others becomes a chore rather than an opportunity for mutual well-being. Overtime, discontent piles up, poisons relationships, makes defensiveness a distraction that in turn hijacks exciting new ideas.
In the age of the selfie, narcissism and inattentiveness, the ability — not merely willingness — to consistently surrender your attention 100% from start to finish, to either on-screen or in-person communication, is increasingly a rare practical intelligence. As Alice Duer Miller aptly observed: “You can listen like a blank wall or like a splendid auditorium where every sound comes back fuller and richer.” But that isn't listening. It's self-indulgence. And neither is the bad habit of rushing others to: “Get to the point.” Nor characterizing others' speech as: “rant.” Or, he or she: “talks too much.”There are relationships, families, communities, and entire nations ravaged by dysfunction due to serious listening skills deficiencies. And to appreciate that, at a highly experiential and intimate level, is to truly appreciate that this is not just another TED Talk. Another article online to scoff at.
There are people — even diasporas — for whom lack of solid Active Listening Skills, Effective Listening and Effective Communication Skills generally speaking, has spelled untold suffering and poverty. And I am living proof, having come from a family whose problems grew worse as its negligence of everything Celeste Headlee speaks of (above) got worse over the years. Till it became normalized.
Ever hang up a phone, suddenly get hung up on by someone important to you, or get impulsively get dumped in the middle of a worthy cause you were collaborating with another on after a frustrating conversation, —only to, in turn, throw the phone at the wall or floor, damaging it?
Ever found during a routine conversation or heated argument that something discussed years back was completely misunderstood because the other person drew fantastically false conclusions, indulging in wrong perceptions overtime? All without ever giving you a chance to explain yourself?
Ignorant of their own erroneous zones, drastically flawed, unhealthy egos, and the fact that the brain itself is primed to easily reach false conclusions, unless properly disciplined and/or well-educated, most poorly educated people assume listening is a straightforward act. Of course, those who know better know it isn't. Just like those who know better know brevity is overrated, —à la Twitter's 140-character limit.
It takes true emotional intelligence, humility, and practice. And the more self-obsessed, self-righteous, and therefore impervious to both correction and reasoning one is, the less they are to appreciate the effort required to hone impeccable listening and communication skills overtime. And this is as true in doomed relationships where listening is taken for granted, as it is in customer care.
Customer service calls can be hell. But being in a broken relationship, family or around people too distracted, disinterested in actually understanding whatever is being said or discussed, or conversationally and socially too incompetent to appreciate how listening move people forward — that is torture.
As Martine Rothblatt rightly said: “Anything worthwhile in life requires teamwork, and you cannot manage what you don’t understand.”
The tragedy of course being: The loneliest, poorest, unhappiest; most frustrated, unstable or self-righteous find it easiest to be terrible listeners or communicators who don't know they are. But where aware, they often don't taking meaningful steps to fix flaws and position themselves for the selfsame career, marriage and relationship success and opportunities they so openly crave due to their fixed mindset.
Moreover, bad listening skills include the opposite of everything Celeste Headlee beautifully discusses above although I disagree that a conversation must be short. Bad listeners generally have a low threshold for tolerance that only gets worse with age unless they make a concerted effort to address it.
Wealthy, even privileged and well-connected folks can afford to be bad listeners and dismiss people and things that don't interest them. But as I argue in Keys to a Healthy Ego, that's precisely what killed Steve Jobs.
Moreover, being Black and having seen first-hand adverse, decades-long economic costs of families, communities and nations ravaged by dysfunction and the absence of Active Listening Skills, I'm convinced this problem is one of the top ten impediments to prosperity and social stability in African leadership, Black American leadership, the Black diaspora, and relationships generally.
To put this in perspective, one of my best friends, who is Chinese, has a very low threshold for tolerance, suffering, complex subjects, etc. She can yawn up at least ten times within the first minute, right after asking a question about a subject matter she isn't particularly fond of. She's opted to switch to a Mobike on a regular summer afternoon with the bus stop we're headed to in full view. The umbrella she was using to block the sun, apparently not enough either. She's also the type that is quick to give up on a conversation, invitation or idea she herself initiated, if she senses pensiveness whereupon she heads straight for her mobile phone, room (closing the door) or other comfort zone.
Others take a hint: “Oh, my timing's wrong. Perhaps I should try later.”
For her, there's no nuance whatsoever. She's not from a wealthy family and has to hustle like everybody else. Which she hates. She IS spoiled. Feisty and all. Despite having a good heart. But where she enjoys a great advantage is her extended family is very cohesive. Pooled resources keeps her thriving. My point being: Inattentive people with little to no social or familial support don't.
In case it crossed your mind, people with advanced listening skills rarely say: “What's your point?” Their default is positive curiosity. Not rudeness. Not entitlement. Yet as seen above, St. Louis' Vashon High students initially took Dr. Eric Thomas' precious time for granted, prompting him to compare.
Whereas Mainland Chinese like my friend and other groups renowned for their rudeness can thrive despite bad communication and social competency, the one group most ill-equipped for the painful consequences bad attitude coupled with poor listening skills the most, is the already disenfranchised Black diaspora. Yet from the U.S., Africa, Europe; globally, Blacks specialize in precisely that.Dismissiveness, phubbing, gossiping, jeering, clowning, standing up, wandering about, taking or making calls and doing everything but LISTEN and surrender one's attention 100% while a lecture or important event is in progress, hasn't helped Black people. But it is what most Black people do. Going so far as to label Black folks trying to educate, empower and lift them up as corny, “uppity nigger.”
As I've often conceded in scolding fellow Black folks, that most Black people live in Loserville, and don't know it. And yet the tricky thing is, it takes great mental toughness and maturity to extricate oneself from Loserville to transformative listening and attentiveness that sets one up to succeed.Years ago, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's interesting response to an interviewer on Love + Radio blew my mind.
It did because in seeking friendships — particularly, building and attempting to maintain genuine friendships — most people commit the cardinal error of projecting their assumptions, idiosyncrasies, stereotypes, insecurities and fears onto others rather than doing the tedious albeit rewarding work of actually stopping, pausing and deliberately seeking first to appreciate the individuality or uniqueness of a specific person or particular group.
Dr. Taylor — who is the only brain scientist known to have experienced, survived, and recovered from a brain stroke, and lived to coherently explain it scientifically, as below — replied: “You cared. But I didn't. I think that's one of the perceptive errors that we make. You project your fears onto me. How many times have you asked me about fear? I didn't have any fear. But if you were in that position [*you*] would anticipate that [*you*] would have all this fear. So as a result, [*you*] treat me with a different kind of perspective because [*you*] have fear. And I don't want your fear. I don't want your sympathy. I want your compassion. And that's very different...I think it's very important that people don't freak out...It's not about [*you*]...” This is what bad listeners never get.
Wisdom in human relations begins with the understanding and demonstration that people *are* indeed different and approach issues and challenges based on unique personal, prototypical makeup, or backgrounds. Sometimes called “the intelligences”, these comprise 4 areas of sense and soul:
SQ » Spiritual Intelligence
IQ » Intellectual/Mental Abilities
EQ » Emotional Intelligence
PQ » Physical Intelligence
You read more, including what Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor was trying to teach her interviewer's ears. But true friendship and genuine acquaintance improves quality of life far beyond the superficial.
No matter one's educational background, the good news is ANYONE can make up for any of the above simply by elevating their level of awareness and making a concerted, genuine, consistent effort to really listen to others.
You're going to hear a lot of “I know, I knows(s)” and “I get it, I get.” But great listeners rarely cease to amaze us with ample proof that they really do get it. After all, what did Einstein say?