The Power of Listening: An Excerpt from “The Art of Shouting Quietly”

The power of listening

One thing quiet people tend to be good at is listening. Dale Carnegie, in the seminal How To Win Friends and Influence People espoused listening skills, coupled with great and genuine questions, as the means to get along in life.

We all love the sensation of being listened to. The more comprehensively we are listened to, the more we respond. It’s powerful stuff. We fall in love with people who listen to us; we vote for people who listen to us; we buy the products and services of people who listen to us. The ability to listen is one of the most profound influencing skills available to us.

Luckily, if you are a quiet soul, you are ahead of the game. The act of keeping one’s mouth shut almost invariably makes you a better listener.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the art of paying attention. Mindfulness isn’t just about listening—it’s all about multi-sensory awareness and requires practice. In some senses, its closest relative is meditation. People who meditate are by nature mindful, but one can develop it as a skill in its own right. You can be mindful anywhere.

How can you promote yourself by paying attention to things? In the same way as we like people to listen, we love people to notice things. In my work as a coach, listening is useful but mindfulness is key. Noticing a sigh, a sharp intake of breath, or a subtle movement or shift in posture can provide much more information than the verbal information that is freely offered.

The ability to practice mindfulness creates opportunity. Mindful people notice much more. History speaks of sensitive people who seem more than usually alert to the nature of things. Mindful people often notice things that our cluttered environment masks—it’s as if they can cut through the white noise of day-to-day communication and filter out the important stuff.

Technology, stress, deadlines, and the all-pervading sense of urgency that is thrust upon us—these things mask signals and snippets of communication. Many aspects of our intuitive selves have been lost. Important signals lost in the fog. Mindfulness can help you recapture those things.

A short while ago, I was co-facilitating a leadership program for a group of senior managers from a high street brand. As part of the program, we asked the group to work on their listening skills. Cue eyes cast skyward. They had all done active listening/open questioning/you name it listening skills training before. So…we asked them to listen to a colleague talking about a work issue for a minute or so using all their best listening skills. No doubt about it—they could all listen in the textbook active listening sense.

Then, we asked them to put their palms on their knees, close their eyes, breathe steadily and deeply for two minutes, and simply notice what was going on around them—the sounds, the smells, and the ambiance of the room. We asked them to repeat the listening exercise. The noise levels in the room plummeted. The quality of listening was improved way beyond what they previously considered to be their high standard.

It only takes a couple of minutes to practice mindfulness—you can do it on the bus, on the train, while waiting for a meeting—and, if all other attempts to find a quiet space defy you, in the restroom. It prepares and readies you for situations that are difficult or that require your full attention.

Once you are able to easily put yourself into a mindful state, you can extend this technique into the realms of visualization and mental rehearsal. Once in a mindful state, it is much easier to mentally ‘walk through’ potentially stressful situations by first of all visualizing them, then by rehearsing different scenarios within them—including how you are likely to feel and respond to the situation.

Excerpted with permission from Pete Mosley’s The Art of Shouting Quietly—a guide to self-promotion for introverts and other quiet souls. Find more at shoutingquietly.com.

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