Monday, August 31, 2009

But Are You Listening?

We've all heard that good leaders are good listeners. Yes, they are good at processing words and understanding content. However, good listening goes beyond the art of hearing and processing. Good listening involves a level of emotional intelligence. Reading facial expressions, body language, and intonation may be just as telling as the words someone speaks. In many cases, these may be clearer indicators of the current conditions than the words being spoken. This is not a foreign concept, many have heard it before and many consider themselves adept at reading people. However, it's not as easy of a skill as you think it might be. Miscommunications are common and in most cases it's not because of a limited vocabulary.

For example, even television shows and movies don't trust us anymore to read the actors. These people are trained to portray feelings and emotions to the audience. However, how do we know the character is in suspense? Well, the soundtrack. How do we know characters are heartbroken? Sad music tugs at our hearts of course. We are obviously better at interpreting sounds than facial expressions and body language because we're fed music for every emotion from grief to joy and everything in between. Perhaps this is just to enhance the experience but I think some part of it is because we've become unreliable in the area of emotional intelligence.

I for one and often more attuned to the sound track of a show or movie than I am to the dialogue. I'm the one constantly pausing the TiVo to go back and re-listen to lyrics so I can go google that song later and download it. The music often tells the story better and more beautifully anyway.

So, here's my challenge to you: add a soundtrack to your conversations. Next time you're listening to someone - be it a family member, coleague, or friend, as they speak to you, try to imagine what soundtrack you would add to enhance their message. Do their words and body language jive? Is there anxiety under the surface? Is their joy authentic? Is there distrust? If the song you pick to go with their body language sends a different message than their words, you have more listening to do. You have more questions to ask. You don't have the entire story.

You can take this a step further and consider the soundtrack you want to go with your message and make sure your expressions and body language match that feeling and message to reduce the possibility of sending your constituents mixed signals.

To drive home my point, this is one of my favorite songs. Same words in each video but the one I prefer depends on what mood I'm in. Before I try to give a positive message, I sometimes have to take the time to shift my day's soundtrack. What about you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I really found this thought-provoking. I find myself capable of reading the body language of a friend and find out what they're really thinking; yet most people I talk to claim that this observance is little more than dumb luck.
Like movie soundtracks, people are looking for the obvious in others; they are sad, or happy. In love or not. There seems to be little room for ambiguity-- heaven forbid should it make things more complicated.