Be the last to speak

Hey rafikis!

It's been a minute, the corporate world has me begging for a 28-hour day, how do you people manage this life with children? Today I wanted to touch upon one of my greatest weaknesses and perhaps the weakness I have made tonnes of effort to rectify in the past few years.

Listening with a capital L!

I can't believe I am actually putting myself out there like this because it is a pretty sensitive topic. Especially when my blog is out there for prospective employers to nosey around. But I'm not really here for my employers, I am here for my readers and getting them to think about important skills to have to navigate life.

Listening is a skill which I reckon some people are born with (let's not spend a lot of time going into arguments about this point), I think it complements certain characters well. For me listening is a skill I have had to learn. In fact, I first discovered how poor I was at listening when I was 22, but it didn't really occur to me that I had to do something about it. I had a weakness, everyone had one so whatever right? Because I was poor at listening, I avoided situations which required me to listen to people and their issues. I actually freaked out at the concept of someone telling me they were going through things, because all that would be going through my head is blanks. The panic would literally make me unable to physically listen, I would be so focused on stopping the million and one thoughts that were running through my mind. It didn't help that I had spent the majority of my childhood years being the quiet kid who never said a word and therefore no one listened to. It seemed to me as though the person with the loudest voice was heard and the moment I figured out I had a voice that's how it all went down.

I listened with the intent to respond. To the point where half of the time when someone was saying something, even before they were done I was already making my point. My opinion sounded too good in my head it had to come through before it escaped. Being the quieter one out of us both --- and after endless struggles to get me to listen - my husband challenged me to keep quiet and listen for a day. We visited some family friends and on that day I decided to withhold my opinion. Wow!!!! The people present touched on every single topic that I had a lot to say about but I sat there and bit my tongue. This opinionated mama kept quiet and observed. What a revelation! As much as I like talking, I am also an observer, but if I am honest a lot of my observations occur post-encounter. I could be sat there and think 'haaaaaang on a minute, what was that all about?' but because the train has supposedly left the station you can only sit there and be plagued by a lot of unanswered questions. Now, if I listened with the intent to understand more often, I would probably move on pretty quickly after having interactions with a person or a group of people. But you know, we are all work in progress. But if I am to return to this exercise I was challenged to do, these are the lessons I learned:

  • When you observe people in their element and the way they communicate you learn a lot. You notice body language, you notice the way people express themselves and you actually notice the moment a person decides to turn off their guard and relax. Who knew? (Probably everyone)

  • People are more willing to listen to you if you show them that you have listened to them. I hardly ever waited for people to turn to me and ask what my opinion was, as soon as I got the opinion it was out there so I cannot really bank on people listening to me when I talk. It may all be just noise to their ears. But because I had held off on my opinions, people were intrigued by my silence and they wanted to know what I thought. So every word that came out of my mouth was being absorbed by the persons who had requested it. Isn't that essentially what we want when we talk, to be listened to?

  • If you wait until the end to share your own views, you will have gathered enough knowledge from the people you are with. This will determine whether what you have to say is relevant or not. Furthermore, you may just decide that your opinion is completely wrong and needs to be discarded or updated.

The last point leads me to the sauce of this post. I recently came across a pretty interesting statement made by Simon Sinek. He said that to him learning to listen is not the most important thing, but rather learning to 'be the last to speak'.

Being the last to speak is difficult and it takes a lot of practice but a good leader is not one who knows how to command a room full of people. It is one that listens first, absorbs the information received, asks questions to understand better and responds in function to what has been said. It is a work in progress for me but communication is not just about being able to express yourself clearly, it is mostly about being able to listen with the intention of understanding so you can provide a solution to a problem or correct a mistake. If you work in the customer service field then you know how irrate customers can get when they can't get you to sympathise with their predicament. Even if you don't work in customer service, I am sure at some point you have been that irrate customer who is speaking to a brick wall.

I am excellent at expressing myself and my experience in academia has enhanced my reading and comprehension skills. However, man cannot survive on reading and talking alone. If I am to stand a chance in the field of leadership and management I must excel at listening. Challenge accepted!!!

Barbara Babcock © 
Without wanting to drag this topic any longer, I wanted to add that listening is not just about listening to people when they are expressing their thoughts or opinions on a particular topic. This is a walk in the park compared to listening to people's opinions about you. Writing this comes from a place of acknowledgement of my weaknesses; I have listened to criticism about me, I have absorbed it and now I am consciously making the decision to work on it. I know for a fact that doing something about it will build me up and improve my relationship with my husband, our child, our families and most importantly my peers and colleagues.  To be honest with y'all, I don't mind receiving criticism at all. I often tell people, 'if you don't pay my bills your opinion of me is invalid' and this is true to a certain extent. I make a conscious effort not to dismiss all criticism as 'hate'. You guys must be aware of the saying that goes "if one person tells you you're a horse, they are crazy. If three people tell you you're a horse, there's a conspiracy afoot. If ten people tell you you're a horse, it's time to buy a saddle.' Buy saddles more often, if the situation warrants it.

What I struggle with is accepting positive feedback about myself. Until recently if someone gave me a compliment I thanked them politely but in my head I wondered whether this person had lost a brain cell overnight. About three weeks ago I decided I would stop being so harsh on myself and begin to absorb the compliments I receive from friends, family and colleagues. In the past month people have called me confident, eloquent, intelligent, a leader, motivational and Professor. Is it a coincidence or are my peers telling me to dig deeper and find my calling? Sometimes we are reluctant to explore certain avenues because we are afraid of failing but you know from today I have decided to win in life. So call me Professor.

And to those I have listened to with the intent to reply in the past, forgive me! Your experiences and opinions matter, I just wasn't wise enough to realise it then, but I do now.

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