The most important skill in the world.

Now is the time for all of us to get back to basics. We have been given a chance to purge clutter that we have amassed during times of “peace and prosperity.” A lot of our thoughts and actions before this pandemic, put into new perspective, might seem irrelevant now. Our acknowledgment of this is nothing short of wisdom.

We used to spend our days figuring out ways to beat the competition, leveraging our marketing, increasing our visibility, fighting for followers, likes and comments. But now, we see these things under a new light. A light that shines on bare necessity. It raises questions like: What is truly essential for survival? What is truly essential for fulfillment? 

Nature teaches us that in order to survive one must respond to their inner calling and their outer conditions. We have been put into a state of alertness. We are alarmed. And this is when one of our most important skills shines through: Our ability to listen.

In times of peace, we barely listen. When we lend someone our ear, it is only to be able to react, or to counter with an opinion that makes the conversation ours. In fact, when most of us are being spoken to, we are already forming an answer in our head! This is not truly listening. This is waiting to react. In the workplace, a typical manager functions this way, eager to make the conversation theirs. Leaders, on the other hand, truly listen. They listen with their heart. They listen with the intent to understand, to gain a full picture of what the person sitting across them really needs. They listen to understand how they can help.

Think about what is happening now. The terribly opinionated fights about Covid-19 on social media create noise without intention. No one knows the truth, the real data, and yet, everyone is screaming and listening to others scream, readying themselves to react. This is not what we need.

If we want to use the times ahead for progress, if we want to prove to ourselves that we are capable of building a world that is more human, with businesses that offer transformation and hope, we need to build places where people are listened to.

The Japanese know a thing or two about really listening. They exemplify it in their tea ceremony culture where everything is built around the principle of being aware of what is now. When we truly listen, our minds don’t wander off into a potential future or an irrelevant past. To truly listen means to focus your energy on the present moment and space. It means you do not formulate a reaction as you listen, but take everything in that you hear, understand it and then respond to it. There is no overlapping discourse between the speaker and the individual that is truly listening. There is respectful silence, and then a moment of responding.

Do you do this when dealing with suppliers, clients, partners, family members? Do you award them your full attention and actively listen to discover their true needs? Or, are you merely hearing their words to fuel an opinion that you want to voice?

The advertising industry is gearing up for the time after the lockdowns. They know that crisis communication requires a different kind of language to infuse trust. The good ones will step back, humbly, and ask the world “how can we help?” The others will return to screaming mode and ask the world “are you ready for our stuff?!”

The world after this virus will be different. It will be fragile, scared, slow. It will want to be cuddled, held, respected. It will want someone who listens to its sorrows, fears, hopes, dreams.

If you’re a business owner, beware… Fear might push you into screaming. Don’t do it. Nothing good comes out of screaming at a frightened person, right? Instead, breathe and let your heart, as an entrepreneur, as well as a human being, ask, “what do I need to do to become a better listener?” This is your work right now.

Today, rather than offering an exercise, I want to suggest a book whose content really embraces the concept of true listening: Ichigo Ichie is a journey into the ways we can make the most of every moment and deepen our abilities to communicate and serve needs, thereby, acting in accordance with our true nature. Let me know what you think after you read it.


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