With a world full of noise, how can we fine-tune the needed listening skill?
This past week I facilitated a San Francisco workshop examining how colleges and universities envision and implement faculty development. My session subtitle: What Important Questions Should We Be Asking?
While in the City by the Bay, I had the opportunity to talk with a person who has been instrumental in training thousands of higher education leaders around our nation. What did he see as a critical skill for effective leadership? The ability to listen and then act.
In Meaningful: The Story of Ideas That Fly, Bernadette Jiwa reminds us “We don’t change the world by starting with our brilliant idea or dreams. We change the world by helping others to live their dreams.”
Ask questions and then wait for responses. Understand what information you need. Then act. All require listening. Often mentioned. Just as frequently ignored or drowned out by an overwhelming onslaught of information and misinformation. With a world full of noise, how can we fine-tune the needed listening skill?
We have to distinguish and separate the noise from the non-noise in the world around us. Shawn Achor provides an insightful rubric for doing just that. Once we understand and apply the criteria for noise, we have a better chance of limiting its debilitating effects on the lives of colleagues, loved ones, and ourselves.
Ask yourself, Achor proposes, if what you attend to (or what you endlessly speak about) is unusable, untimely, hypothetical, or distracting. More specifically,
- Unusable. Will the information you continuously “take in/give out” change your behavior? If not, you are probably wasting time.
*Example. You follow a particular news story—repeatedly. The information remains the same (since the initial “news alert”). Nonetheless, you spend hours listening to talking heads give their interpretation. Or you constantly scan your smart phone for social media updates (other people’s agendas). Maybe you spend hours following celebrity stories or the latest intelligence on the NFL draft. And…the information will have no effect on your behavior. Nothing changes. Noise.
- Untimely. Will you use the information, now? Will it more than likely change in the future when you might use it?
*Example. You get a hurricane alert. It might make landfall in five days. At that point, you have useful information to notice and consider preparations. However, if you stay glued to the weather channels endlessly for hours—with no updated information coming in—you need to ask what the benefit is other than getting more worried about something that you cannot control and that is still a long way from happening. And, in the case of a weather forecast, it will likely change a number of times. Noise.
- Hypothetical. Do we focus on what “could be” rather than what “is”?
*Example. I am not picking on the weather prognosticators (really) but do you base plans on the predictions—that may very well be inaccurate. One of my podcast guests, Neil Dixon (February 2017), has an answer to the meteorological hypothetical. When the forecast calls for 80% rain, he makes a golf tee time. Why? Because there is 20% for sunshine. Think about economic forecasts. How accurate? How often? Noise.
- Distracting. Does the information deter you or stop movement toward your goals?
*Example. Your goals relate to your career, relationships, health, finances, intellectual development, emotional stability, and spiritual wellbeing. How much of the onslaught of information you get hit with (and allow yourself to be hit with) relate to those goals? How much gets in the way of goal achievement? Noise.
This week consider where, when, and how you can eliminate noise. Listen to your goals and move in those directions.
Video recommendation for the week:
In this TED talk, Julian Treasure suggests five strategies to fine-tune our listening.
Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.
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