Episode 64: Can You Hear Me?

Do you ever wish you were a better communicator and listener? Jimmy shares three attributes of great communication in this episode. Our world has been transformed into a disruptive planet in the past few weeks. The causes for this catastrophic environment are many but the root cause of most of the damage inflicted on our fellow humans has communication as its core.

You will learn:

  • The difference between hearing and listening when conversing with others.
  • How to invoke intuitive listening in a conversation to truly understand the “real” concerns of the other person.
  • Why empathy and body language speak louder than the words you say to someone who is hurting.
  • How to develop skills of communication that will transform every area of your life.

Podcast Transcript

Good morning! This has been a different time period in our lives as we face disruption in our economy. People have lost jobs, been displaced from their homes, in some cases, due to flooding and other natural disasters. And not just that recently we’ve seen our own disruption due to ourselves in our cities across the country where protests became riots and riots became destruction. This is a little different Live a Life by Design podcast episode. I’m Jimmy Williams, your host today. The Monday morning moments of motivation today are going to be actually focusing on listening and hearing.

This is an area of life that I have struggled. I don’t know about you, but I have really worked hard on trying to become a skillful listener. As a young boy, I’ve got some stories to tell you in just a moment, that I knew immediately as the youngest of six children I was not being a very good listener. But I want you to know I am thankful you’re here with us today. And I hope that you gain something positive and powerful from this episode. As you start your week to make a difference in those that you encounter.

I mean I want you to make such a positive difference in their lives that they can not forget they met you. That’s the kind of power that we need to invoke upon others. So, today join me for just a few moments and allow me to reflect what has happened in our world. You know, the current events around us in our nation, even the world, from the pandemic that started so abruptly on the other side of our planet. Quickly spread like wildfire all over the world. You know, our world was in turmoil to begin with and we made it even darker with the death of a man. In Minneapolis, a gentleman that died unnecessarily, and it’s a terrible thing to say that someone has died. It’s another thing to say how this gentleman died.

But that’s not the purpose of today’s podcast. You know, the purpose today is, well, how do you keep your forward momentum while giving respect and listening to the cries to those that are hurting? I hope to share with you an approach today that will give you a sense of real hope to know that better days are truly ahead. I do not discount the hurt and pain felt by so many during this pandemic and during this time of disruption. Lives that have been lost, while others have suffered from the inability to even spend time with their sick loved ones in the hospital. There have been funerals where their loved ones have deceased and they’ve been unable to grieve and even share in the ceremony of the celebration of their life due to this pandemic.

Too often the voice crying out for help, respect, recognition, or inevitably equality in the eyes of the world belongs to one whose feels powerless against the tide of voices attracting the attention of the mighty. I truly support the right for our citizens to peacefully protest. This is something that has throughout history been a way with our people. The peaceful protest brings attention to a need, a desire of a group of our citizens to be heard. But the wrongful destruction of property merely to destroy the lives of others is not a means of communicating the manner that will get the point across.

We must find a better method of using our voices and less of using property damage and personal injury to silence those with differing opinions. I often say that we have so many more items in common than we do differences. Why is it we focus on those few differences we have? Peace to all of our subscribers across the globe is all that we wish today. So let’s be the example of acceptance of fellow man and treat all people, and I mean all people with respect.

You see, respect starts with open and candid communication. And that’s the focus I want to take today. What is open and candid communication, and how can we be better at communicating. How can we better listeners? Before we can communicate, we must understand, though, what true listening is all about. A true story for you today, my parents had an uncanny knack of knowing what I was thinking as a child. I guess I should never go to Vegas at the poker tables cause they’d probably read it through my eyes what I’m holding. But my mother would often say, “Are you listening to me?” My reply would always be, “Yes”. Her next few words would be an awakening for me though. She’d say, “You may be listening, but you aren’t hearing me”. Now, mom had that a little bit backwards. Hearing, right, is the physical capability that notes sound, listening means that you are applying the words and understanding to what is being said. But I will say this, she got her point across rather quickly, or if she didn’t she had other means, shall we say, to get her point across.

So, how true is that statement, though, on today’s society? You may be listening, but you aren’t hearing me. What can we do to become better, skilled at hearing others needs and concerns? As leaders we must develop this skill to enhance our capabilities to lead. This is at every level of our government, every level of the corporate structure. Every level in our community. We are simply not listening to those who have hurts and concerns and doing what we must to make certain all citizens have the pursuit of happiness.

Peter Drucker, the famed corporate leader, stated an eloquent quip about listening and hearing that I really enjoy. He said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said”. Hope you caught that. Too often we are listening to another person’s concerns while formulating a response in our minds, prior to the person completing their statement. Know I know what you’re thinking, ladies that are listening to this, this is every man you’ve ever met. You know, I hate to tell you this, but there’s a book out called, Men Are From Mars, and Women Are From Venus, it actually has a scientific statement in the book, as it was written by a PhD, and her comment is is that men have so fewer words in their daily disposal than women. So by the time we men are home, and our spouses wish to talk with us, we’re out of words.

Perhaps we also suffer a little bit from attention disorder. But anyway, the true being of listening and hearing is simply being self centered, if we are focused on ourselves. If we’re wondering what statement we could come up with that’s pithy or funny, or retort that we can give to this person speaking that makes them look a little less powerful than us, that to me is nothing more than self-centeredness. So I have three attributes that I utilize to try to help me build the skill of being a better listener.

Now I didn’t say communicator, but that’s in effect what you’re doing, right? Most communication is transferred by listening, not just the speaking. And there are ways in which we speak that are not verbal but can communicate a tremendous amount of information to the person that is truly attuned to what we are saying in the conversation. So these three attributes for great communication and listening is our topic today.

The first attribute is simply this, being present. In our world, where everything is vying for our attention, it is most difficult to be present in a conversation. This is one of my constant struggles. Our younger daughter, Gabrielle, has a unique method of communicating that requires patience on the receiver for her to complete her story. As a little child, she would tell us something that happened in Kindergarten, and the story would be presented in granular detail. She did not leave one item out of the narrative. After the first five or six minutes, my mind would drift and she would say, “Daddy, you’re not hearing my story”. I would always correct her and say, “Daddy can hear you, but he is not listening”. Now that’s probably not funny to those of you as parents, but this got to be quite a long story and at the end of the day I’d forget what she’d even started with. That’s how disengaging it was at some points, and I hated that, but I will continue with the story now, but anyway. So she would then help me with my attention deficiency and grab my face in her tiny hands and hold me up close to her face while restarting the entire story so that I could understand the context.

So being present is a skill that we can and should develop as fellow humans. The world is continually fighting, as I said, for our attention. Whether it’s your work, whether it’s the traffic you’re dealing with to and from wherever you may be going. Whether it’s news radio, your colleagues at the office. Your family at home, clients on the phone, etc. There are many many different means of attention grabbing going on during our day. It is no wonder that we’re exhausted and poor listeners and communicators. You expend a tremendous amount of energy to simply achieve presence in the midst of others.

You’ve been to that. So after work you’ve been invited to a dinner or something and you’ve sat there and listened and all of these voices around you run together. You find yourself in your mind just wondering to some place, maybe a peacefulness. You know, someplace, if you will, your happy spot where you can just relax. From this day forward though, let’s work on building our presence muscle. Sincerely focus and take an interest in the other person attempting to communicate with you. The Dali Lama stated, “When you talk you are only repeating what you already know. But when you listen you may learn something new”. Take the initiative this week to be present with whomever you are speaking. I assure you this is a muscle you can grow and a skill that can be proven.

So the first attribute is to simply be present in the moment. The second key attribute of great communications and listening is exhibiting empathy. Instead of offering empathy, we often have a strong urge to give advice, or reassurance, and to explain our own position or feeling on the subject being discussed. Empathy, however, calls upon us to empty our mind and listen to others with our whole being. Man, this is tough. I’ll just be honest with you, this is a tough one sometimes. If you’ve had a long week, it’s going toward the end of the week and you are talking with someone that is truly hurting and needing your full attention, and all that is happened is that others were taking withdrawals from your emotional bank all week. It seemed to be an arduous task to attempt to show empathy.

But others in our presence don’t want us to feel sorry for them, rather they only wish to have our undivided attention and perhaps contribute to their understanding to resolve the challenge they may be facing. The best leaders are those that are proactive, strategic, and intuitive listeners. Now that is interesting. So you ask, what is intuitive listening? Intuitive listening is nothing more than the ability of the listener to read between the lines being said by the person talking. So often the person speaking will not give you the full details for fear that it may show a weakness. Or for fear that they may have a knowledge of something so negative about someone that each of you both know. They don’t want to disparage anyone. Whatever the person is attempting to say, you must try to learn between those lines what’s being said and acknowledge them in your own mind. You know the bigger story is about those statements not being verbalized by the person talking. I am not talking about mind reading, here. This isn’t something, and I’ll be honest with you, I’m a husband of 32 years and I still can’t read my wife’s mind. But anyway, I think she wishes I could some days. But rather I want you to focus on the ability to deduce the complete story from the fragmented sentences presented to you by the person that’s hurting.

So often they may not be able to verbalize what is their pain. And that seems to be what’s been going on throughout our country in the last two weeks. This pain has been mentioned and mentioned and mentioned, and we see no progress or very little made toward a resolution. So the talent of intuitive listening is one that truly can be learned. Similar to the skill of being present. You must find a means of listening proactively, that responds to the other person in a manner that simply means I understand. When we fully immerse ourselves in the attention of the other person, we’re telling that person that he or she is only focused in our mind for that moment.

Now that takes some skill. This is another form of just simply displaying empathy to the person that may be hurting or feel infringed in some manner. Being sorry for someone is not the answer to great communications. It could be, at certain times, during the loss of a loved one or something of that nature, but for most of us during the conversation of the day, being a person that exhibits empathy will help the other person know that you understand as well as you are truly listening intuitively to what they are saying. So, the attribute number two that’s most important to be a great communicator and listener is to exhibit empathy to the other party.

And the third and final attribute to listen with your ears and your heart. That’s a big conjunction. You know, it seems so easy that we have two ears and one mouth. My dad’s always said, “The reason God put two ears and one mouth on a human is because you should listen twice as much as you speak”. Now I’m not sure I ever do that. I’ve got a super jaw with a muscle you wouldn’t believe, folks. I can speak for hours and I have on stages across this country, spoken for anywhere from four to six hours in a day. And just loved every minute of it. It’s one of my passions. But one of my passions today, and I am learning to become better, is that of a listener. So I want to not only listen with my ears, in the physical sense. I want to feel what the person is saying in my heart. I want to have that type of a skill and I want to have that type of an attraction to people where they can talk with me. You notice I didn’t say to me, they can talk with me and leave that conversation knowing that I was truthful. I was empathetic, and I truly listened to them and what they had to say so that they may leave with a better understanding of what their situation was.

And I truly believe we could bridge the chasm of inequality and lack of respect by fully engaging in listening to others with our heart, not simply our minds and our ears. You see, the mind is always working on a retort. Or another phrase that may prove a point whereas the heart is simply open and accepting of the person’s comments. If the person is sincere in pouring out their feelings to us, as leaders we muster the physical and emotional strength, which is hard to do, but to become that person of sincerity and understanding it is a requirement. The quieter you become, the more you hear from the other person.

I started a habit, as a young man, of looking people in the eye while talking with them. Some people may interpret this as a dominating position in the conversation, but I truly am focusing on what is being said. I seek only to provide my full attention to those I speak and work very hard to exhibit empathy. No I am still not the best listener, but I am constantly working on the skill. I only hope that we can become so dedicated to listening to those around us that we can communicate in more ways than just our voices and faces. Dave Willis gave us a goal for listening when he said, “Taking the time to truly listen to someone can communicate our love and respect even more than our spoken words”. Man, that is a powerful statement.

I found myself watching interpreters recently on TV, providing sign language for audiences that were listening to either city, state or national leaders during the pandemic. My attention was gained in the overall expression of the faces and body language utilized by the interpreter to convey the deep heartfelt meaning of the speaker. You’ve heard before, and I have said his name in many of these episodes, but I am just a big fan. I consider him a mentor through books and other means, but Winston Churchill, or Sir Winston Churchill as he was known in the later part of his career had a talent and skill for delivering just the right word or phrase to communicate exactly his point. His ability to listen through the language of words to find the true meaning of the intentions and thoughts of the speaker were simply uncanny to me.

Notice his use of language, spoken from the heart in this quote, “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.” When our world’s citizens understand and agree that all deserve the respect of others and that the power gained through true communication, without blame, condescension and selfishness, can truly overcome the few small differences that may exist between all of us. As humans on the same planet, I truly want to live my life in a manner that brings respect and admiration to those I meet.

The goal this week is for everyone listening is to utilize these three attributes to build the muscle of effective and honest communications by 1) being present in that moment; by 2) exhibiting empathy to those around us; and 3) listen with your heart and not just your ears. Focus on these three and develop the skill of truly listening to those that are talking with you. Be courageous this week. And what I mean is courageous in the manner described by, again, Sir Winston Churchill, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Smile gigantically this week, and spread some joy to those around you that are hurting. Isn’t that what Living a Life by Design truly means? Go out, make the world a better place for everyone you come in contact with. Share your smile, spread it across the world and let’s turn this world from disruption and despair, to happiness and opportunity for everyone. Until next week, peace to all of you in great abundance, and let’s go live our lives by design.

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