Even though we are constantly reminded that we have two ears and one mouth, we forget that listening is at least twice as important as speaking. Listening is an underestimated skill both in communication and leadership. Since our youngest ages our parents and schools teach us how to read, write and count, but listening is not a part of any curriculum. Why? Because we are already born with two ears that work, we already hear everything so there is nothing to teach. It’s a skill that is always there. Because we are Already Always Listening.
Already Always Listening is a distinction made in the Landmark Forum, a personal and professional development program I attended. Everything we already know to be true makes up our permanent state of Already Always Listening. We think we are open-minded but we listen to people through a wall of our opinions instead of being present to what they are saying. This manifests as an internal little voice that keeps talking in our heads even when it’s the other person’s turn to talk and our turn to listen. It keeps forming judgements.
Overtime, we start listening on autopilot and no longer realize we are doing this. Even with people we care about most it gets hard to distinguish between their words and our own interpretations that promptly pop into our heads while they speak.
How did this begin? At around 2 years of age we start picking up language from people around us, and along with it we inherit the pre-existing opinions from our surroundings and the culture we are raised in. Each of us accumulates stereotypes and prejudices over the course of time and, in the Landmark language, they become the tinted glasses through which we see the world.
Landmark teaches us to be authentic in every area of our life, so I would like to be authentic about my prejudices. Some of them appear completely irrational. For example, as a young child I was afraid of men with long beards. Any time I played outside and saw one walking down the street, I dashed home and locked the door behind me in case if he was coming for me. I cannot recall a single incident that would instill this fear in me so I believe it was influenced by all of the fairy tales I heard as a child where the villains were wizards with long beards.
A more recent example is from last year: I was at the Vancouver airport when a congregation of 3-4 Muslim looking men dressed in traditional clothes caught my eye. I was aware of their presence right next to me the entire time while we were waiting, not understanding anything from the intense discussion they were having. The way I was seeing them may have been through the tinted glasses of the Media reports on terrorists in crowded places. What I saw next was that of all people around me, two of these men jumped to help me with my suitcases first at YVR and then at the London Heathrow airport again, with no request on my end, only because they may or may have not noticed I had a wrist injury. But so could have done anyone else…
Judging and being judged limits our power and freedom and definitely takes away from the quality of life we live. When I am on the speaking end of communications, I am aware that other people could be seeing and hearing me through the filters of their own. Once in a while a well-meaning someone may offer: “Oh, I love your accent!”, or “Your name! Where is that from?” When that happens in the middle of my sentence, I feel as if what I have to say may be not as important to them as focusing on our differences is. Just like everyone else, I don’t want to be judged by the cover, while I don’t mind answering those other questions later.
By sticking to our tinted glasses we choose to remain stuck in the past and take it everywhere with us including our future. But being aware of this allows us bringing into light things that have been deeply ingrained in us for so long. I want to remind that everyone wants a chance to be heard and everyone wants a chance to contribute. You never know, there might be a deeper and bigger person behind the surface we are so quick to judge.
Do you face any prejudices in your daily life or do you have biases of your own that you would like to let go of?