Getting in Tune with Careful Listening

A defining quality of a resilient workgroup is the capacity of its members to communicate effectively with one another. Achieving this state requires both clear statements as well as attentive listening.

A caveat for those hoping to increase their workgroup’s resilience is that people overestimate their capacity to listen. On the surface, listening seems so easy. You just sit there with your eyes and ears functioning. To be extra attentive, people go through entire conversations without glancing at their smartphones.

In practice, people construct much of what they take away from a conversation. That is, what ends up in one’s memory of a conversation comes to a large part from what the listener brings to the conversation. The other party’s words, gestures, or facial expressions impinge on that existing framework. Sometimes the other party’s impact is slight.

A fine example of our capacity to construct is demonstrated in reading a sample of text which is partially distorted. In this example, the capacity to ignore much of what is on the page is a real asset. It allows the reader to derive meaning from what is literally nonsense. But the outcomes of our reconstructions are not always so beneficial. The same process can be problematic when existing frameworks filter out the true meaning of a message.

An example of refining and intensifying the capacity to listen is playing music with other people. On the most micro level, the primary listening challenge for a music group is playing in tune. Doing so begins with tuning up at the beginning, but intonation is an ongoing process throughout. Most musical instruments have a range of latitude on each note. When a flute player closes the three keys controlled by the left hand, the instrument plays a G but subtle adjustments can move that pitch a bit sharp or a bit flat. Where the tone ends up is not automatic. Getting it to the right pitch requires careful attention.

Attentive listening is a complex capacity. It improves with practice. For some, playing music provides an excellent basis for refining that capacity. But it is not the only option. An alternative is to take a moment to listen carefully. Whether in a coffee shop, an airport waiting area, or a workplace, people are surrounded by sounds. Some are loud and aggravating; others are subtle and perhaps intriguing. Taking a moment to listen through the layers of sound, identifying each one, and figuring out one’s relationship with that sound can be a learning experience.

Being a really good listener is worth the investment.

What works best for you?

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