Friday, August 12


As mentioned in an earlier posting, the qualities of the input we receive are critical to creativity.

Those of you in the creative sector might find you can survive predominantly on your imaginations.  (Or is my view of art, advertising and architecture far too romantic?)

But over here in industries which are traditionally more analytical, at least some of our input must be directly relevant to the situation where we seek inspiration.

So we have to listen.  This is a hugely underrated and largely neglected skill.

You may think you're a good listener, but do you exhibit any of these behaviours? 
  • You start talking before your interlocuter has finished what sounds like his last word?
  • You wish she would stop repeating herself in paraphrase, when the point is already made.
  • You're thinking about the next point you need to make, and how you're going to crowbar it in?
  • You're pattern matching:  You've heard this tale of woe before, and have already mapped it onto a story you heard three years ago.
  • You're nodding emphatically, but not bothering to understand what appears to be deep detail.

(Score minus one mark for each hit!   On a typical day my score is minus two.)

In each of these cases something has gone wrong.  I believe these problems can be overcome with four measures:
  1. Only enter those interviews and meetings which you expect will be valuable enough to justify the time taken.  Once you've made a rational decision to be in the room, you're likely to engage better.
  2. If there's a clear agenda for the meeting, then consciously choose to listen to everything that's said.  It's probably being said for a reason.
  3. Actually listen.  This is an act of will, not an unconscious behaviour.  Turning-off distracting phones and laptops helps, but there's more to it than that.  You need single input, but you also need to be single-minded.
  4. Show that you're listening.  Behaviours like nodding, maintaining eye contact, and saying "yeah ... uh-huh ... yep ..." are called Active Listening.  They tell the speaker that you're listening, and guard against very some very disciplined speakers repeating themselves time and again until they get a signal that they've been heard.

I actually think I'm rather good at active listening, but that alone doesn't make me a good listener.  People often tell me I am one, when in fact I know different.  Maintaining eye contact and nodding are no guarantee that I'm paying proper attention, they just strongly suggest it.   I'm trying my hardest to change this, and that became much easier in the last couple of years when my job became much more interesting.

Nancy Kline covers some of this in her book "Time to Think".  I've had other books recommended to me, which I'll cite once I've had "Time to Read"!  

Until then, please comment with any suggestions in this area.

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