Some days are filled with extremely distinct interactions. In one of these you have moments of clarity, clearly defined and separated. You can remember everything you did because everything was worth remembering.

Today was one of these poignant experiences.

First it was a city worker accosting a dog owner whose canine companions were busy play-destroying the carefully and newly planted flowers of a city garden bed. The worker ended up walking away frustrated, and the owner kept standing as his dogs remained, tearing all this labour to shreds. (This is irrelevant to the rest of the article, but it deserves to be observed, and learned from.)

Then there was a meeting with a dear friend about an idea, something he needed help articulating and expressing through the hands of another person’s skills.

Then there was another friend, concerned about making an elevator pitch, wracked by nervous tension when it comes to explaining what he does. He is genuinely unique, but limited by stigmas surrounding his work.

I think I remember these moments because my mind, my mouth, my heart were silent for a little bit. I was able to observe and just take it all in for a few sacred seconds. I almost felt like I was feeling their tension, but I had one foot off the boat and was able to know that dry land wasn’t all that far off. What was validated to me today, what satisfied me like a cool shower on a hot day, was not more words or opinions. It was just listening.

And therein lies the observation.

No one is talking about this, and yet everyone is talking about something. The great thinkers and explorers are not great because they talk, but because they are quiet. They have observed something that needs to be explored or discovered. They have filled their lives with enough emptiness to be able to see where there is emptiness around them. While we all talk, a few are listening really well, and these few will be the ones to explain things, define new ideas and discover. All the books you read on the newest business thinking will only be great if the author has been observant enough to find this idea, and silent enough to hear how his audience thinks. It’s incredibly hard to know someone else’s tone or cares when your own voice is working to drown that out.

It’s the hardest thing to do.

It means relinquishing your pride as well as your fear. Many times we use words to protect ourselves, or cover our inability, but silence is really the balm.

In the first example from today. It manifested in a few simple words. We See You. That was the only idea that anyone really cared about conveying. And so we stripped everything back to this simple vision. We talked practically about how to convey it, we created a worldview around those three words to enlighten ourselves and the audience. The project took focus. This wasn’t my idea, it was theirs. I just had to shut up for a bit to hear it.

The second example was similar. My friend was talking to himself so much that he began shouting over the thoughts of his own mind. He needed to listen to his heartbeat. To hear his pulse. He couldn’t share effectively from a script, it needed to be from his internal beliefs. He stopped. He listened. He spoke clearly about his passion and beliefs and how those drive everything in his company and work.

And it was compelling.

And I got the benefit of being the witness. I was able to take part in the discovery process, not because I had the answers, but because I didn’t. Coming to someone with a pre-supposed remedy for an undiagnosed problem is like being a surgeon with no idea of which kidney needs to come out. That’s a huge opportunity to lose. And yet we all barge into the operating room of eachothers’ lives with our scalpels of pre-formulated advice raised high. We are eager to speak. We are slow to listen.

The story ends well when it starts with listening.

Enter your world quietly. Enter your business quietly. Meet clients with more questions than pitches on your tongue. Take the person across the table from you seriously and try to hear not just their words, but their heart, their pain, their joy. That’s how you begin to truly help people and make a difference. Business or personal, the principle is the same.

Practice listening by:

Conversation. Don’t leave until you have asked a minimum of 5 questions. 2 of them need to be follow-ups on other questions.

Example: What do you have planned for your weekend? Lake time!
Follow-up: What do you love about being on the water? Much longer answer…

When the conversation is over, replay it. Let their answers sink into your memory. Make a mental image of that person and then ascribe the pictures created by their answers to them. You never know what good observation may show you…but that’s the point of observing in the first place.

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