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The Alpha of Listening

August 16, 2019

Two days ago, I got this letter from a person who had attended a listening workshop I conducted for the Gates Scholars Program at Cambridge University in the UK. 

 

“I am really grateful for what I learned in the Cambridge workshop.  After I came back [home], with plans to put what I had learned into my professional practice, the opportunity to use what I had learned and practiced came to me in a way that I could have never imagined. 

 

My good friend had received some bad news and panicked.  When I was called, I was told they were standing on top of a building and was planning on jumping to end their life.  The authorities allowed me to go be near them and talk with them.  I actually did very little talking and a lot of listening.  Using the techniques I learned, rather than trying to talk them out of what they were planning on doing, I listened to them.  I managed to help save their life.  I learned first-hand the power of listening.” 

 

After years of trying to figure out what to call my monthly blog, I stumbled upon a name that made sense to me.  Why have a name for a blog?  It wasn’t my idea.  The idea for naming it came from a friend of mine, who said, “What you write isn’t a blog, it is something more than that.”  He went on to say, “And don’t ask me what it is, it’s just more than a blog.” 

 

A few months ago, the name, “The Alpha of Listening” came to me from somewhere.  What does that mean?  Well as I began exploring the word “Alpha”, this is what I discovered - Alpha is used to refer to or describe (among other things) the first or most significant something.

 

So, since I have been harping on the importance of listening as the most essential aspect of communication for the last dozen years or so, that word, Alpha seems right to me.

 

If I want to practice and grade my ability to listen, Facebook is an incredible place to practice.  It is filled with talkers and very few listeners.  In that sense, it merely mimics the world I live in.  I believe that the lack of listening on Facebook and other platforms is little more than a reflection of how little listening takes place in our culture at all levels and in all places, even though nature apparently thought it was twice as important to listen as it is to talk (one mouth, two ears).

 

It is very difficult for me to listen to someone who’s beliefs are 180 degrees from what mine are.  Even more so when the person talking is someone I like and admire.  Especially when people are dying in front of my eyes.  Listening means, listening.  Not making a counterpoint or trying to set people straight. 

 

A blog I wrote a couple of months ago addressed the question someone in one of my workshops asked me. “Why should I listen to them, when they don’t listen to me”?  My answer was and is, “If not you, who?”  And I must remember, very seldom will the person I am listening to, EVER ask me what I think.  So, if my plan is to listen first and believe that then I will have a chance to speak and be listened to, I am setting myself up for a big disappointment. 

 

How is it that listening well can be more effective than talking?  If you or I am listened to deeply and well-enough, our rationale for whatever we are talking about begins to show gaping holes in our logic.  Until we are listened to that deeply and completely, we never discover that.  And, when we do discover that, we are not likely to admit or own it, but we will be confronted by our own inconsistencies and subtly be changed, from the inside out.  That’s one of the dangers in listening.  I might be changed by what I hear. 

 

So, up for the challenge to practice?  Go straight for the majors.  Facebook.  Practice with the folks least likely to listen to you.  That world has a preponderance of preachers and few congregants.  Who knows, with your ability gained by practicing, like the person mentioned in the first part of this blog, you could save a life.

 

By the way, even with all the practice, I still give myself a “C”, in being able to listen, really listen.

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