What do you listen for?

At this time of year, Christmas carols and songs of the season can be heard in stores, on the radio, and everywhere you go. At some point, it's likely you'll hear the holiday classic, "Do You Hear What I Hear?", which most of us think of as a sweet song about the nativity, sung by a children's choir. In reality, the song was written in 1962, around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in response to the dread the composers felt because of the Cold War. In this context, I'm guessing you'll "hear" the song a bit differently from now on.

I came across a thought-provoking story a while back about two men who were walking along a crowded sidewalk in a bustling business area. Suddenly one man exclaimed, "Listen to the lovely sound of that cricket!" His companion was incredulous: "How can you possibly detect the delicate sound of a cricket over the din of traffic and all these people?" The first man, a zoologist, had trained himself to listen to the sounds of nature, but he did not explain this — he simply took a silver dollar out of his pocket and dropped it on the sidewalk. Immediately, a dozen people around heard the sound, stopped and started looking for the money. "We hear," he said, "what we listen for."

So here's the big question: What do YOU listen for?

In his book, The Power of Nice, Ronald Shapiro provides 5 reminders to help you listen (and keep listening) better:

  1. Don't talk.This is the obvious, but hard one, to do. Don't interrupt; keep listening. Don't react; keep listening.
  2. Act interested. Pretty soon, you will be. Take notes. Ask questions. Clarify and confirm.
  3. Use attentive body language. Send listening signals. Make eye contact. Lean in. Nod (this encourages the talker to talk and tell you more). Think.
  4. Eliminate distractions. Create your own listening confessional. Don't let your eyes wander. Get rid of noise. Reduce diversions. Remember what it feels like to be ignored.
  5. Let listening be a solution. Sometimes the other side just wants to be heard. Never stop listening; keep learning.

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