My recent participation in the Change talks series: Relationship Change: Matters of the Heart, hosted by The Change School, showed me some humbling lessons about the true meaning of relationships in life.
From the panel sharing to group discussions, I realised that what gets in the way of our relationships, be it personal, social or professional, is what we think we know.
When we think we know what’s going on with the other person and with the world, we stop learning.
And when we stop listening, we stop growing as a brand - our personal self identity as well as the presence of the business entity start to fizzle out.
Can you remember a time when someone ...
- Tried to give you his opinions and start fitting you into a mould based on his school of thought because he had gained success out of it?
- Took your well-intended message out of context?
- Seems to be competing for airtime trying to talk over others to prove their point?
- Tried to ‘change’ you in a certain way and you feel the discomfort?
- Tried to manoeuvre the conversation halfway into their hidden agenda?
These are just a few examples of how our knowledge can be a hindrance instead of value to someone else.
When we stop listening, it just makes the communication so difficult to continue.
With an increasing uncertainty of our times, we all want to be as well equipped and prepared as possible so as to “make sense” of what’s happening around us.
This is made easier with convenient access to technology and increasing availability of choices.
But they also come at the expense of our relationships.
Because the more we know, the more we do not understand and hence the greater the disconnection.
And here are ways which our preconceived knowledge can get in the way…
- The meaning we attached to our roles. Behind every roles, there are layers of meaning, expectations and assumptions we carry along with us. Whether as a father, a wife, a son, a CEO, as a man or women, the meaning we attached to the different hats we wear can affect our interactions with others. If the criteria we attached to our roles are at an unhealthy level, it can become toxic. By looking beyond the labels and understand fundamentally who we are, we can shift our relationship dynamics.
- How we define our status. The meaning we associate with our role labels also hold a certain definition of our status. A cleaner is often perceived as of a lower status than a banker by the difference of expertise, skillsets, experience required, level of complexity involved, income level, etc. Status is also defined by our affiliation with groups, position, class, culture, religion, race, accomplishments, citizenship and gender. Status is like our mask or makeup, the stronger we hold onto the definition we gave to it, the greater the separation it creates in our relationships.
- Our beliefs about people and our worldviews. We are constantly forming impressions and opinions about people and the world based on our experiences and interactions with them. This can lead to biases as we only choose to see what we want to see. No doubt we need beliefs and worldviews to help us navigate our world. But it becomes an issue when we overgeneralise our experience, distort the true meaning and delete certain important details. Then, we tend to end up imposing our reality onto others.
When you start realising these unconscious tendencies you have been carrying with you, you’ll discover just how much baggage you are bringing into your conversations and interactions with others.
Putting up walls like these will only serve to separate us further from one another.
This made me understood how crucial and essential listening comes into play to bring us closer together.
And it is not just listening with awareness, but also listening with humility.
When we are willing to LET GO of our walls established by our own ego, we’ll learn to appreciate another person as a human being just like us.
By listening with humility in that sense, we’ll then be able to listen wholeheartedly.
Your personal mastery and capacity to listen gets reflected in the presence of your business brand entity as well.
The producer-driven economy is giving way to a new, customer-centred world in which companies will prosper by developing relationships with customers - by listening to them, adapting and responding to their growing needs and wants.
A few years ago, I discovered this useful approach of communicating with others that enables me to listen wholeheartedly, that is, to treat each interaction as a fresh new beginning, even if you know this person for years!
By that, I do not mean to go into a full amnesia mode. But to have your experiences, knowledge and expertise at the back of your mind, to hold them loosely rather than controlling them too tightly at the foreground, while opening yourself to evolving changes and possibilities.
And below are some scenarios which you can experiment with this, as a practice of listening wholeheartedly and with humility. Some can be pretty absurd.
- Allow yourself to entertain people who are of lower status, less experienced or who seems to be an ‘idiot’ in your definition. You might surprise yourself that they can offer you interesting angles you refused to look at in the past, simply because you believed they have nothing of value or a waste of your time.
- Talk to your difficult customers. I agree that some of them can be pretty energy-sucking. But at the same time, they might sometimes show you a very valid perspective or concern from an unique angle that is vastly different from yours (that’s why they are difficult to deal with).
- Attend events that has no relations to what your interests are or to your nature of business and meet the people there. When you constantly remain in areas which you are familiar with, you’ll find yourself becoming stale in your progression. There are always powerful lessons and frameworks you can draw upon from seemingly unrelated stuff, which you can utilise in your area of expertise.
- Learn from your competitors. Though you might feel uncomfortable talking to your competitors and mingle with them out of fear, letting go of your personal judgments and staying neutral allows you to understand why they do what they do and not do. This information can help you stay relevant and thrive ahead.
While you might still find these suggestion absurd, I would say they are counterintuitive.
With the rise of absurdity these days from media to politics, those insane areas also present possibilities and opportunities for growth at the same time.
You can only tap into those possibilities if you drop your inner critic and allow yourself to listen with neutrality and to look at areas you seldom look at, to discover new realities beyond your imagination.
The question is, are you willing to listen wholeheartedly?
What are your thoughts?