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Posts Tagged ‘listening’

We had a week of silent retreat at the end of last month. Silence, of course, doesn’t mean silence; it means no talking. During meals it meant the clatter of cutlery and the slurping of coffee at breakfast, a selection of classical music at supper, and someone reading to us over lunch – in the monastic tradition.

A pulpit in the refectory of a Carmelite friary in Malta, where a friar would read to the community during meals

It’s very rare, as an adult, that you just sit back (or hunch forward over your lunch) and have someone read to you. One part of the mind is concentrating on the words, and enjoying the language and thoughts and stories. Another part is able to be more attentive than usual to the surroundings, to the senses – the taste of the food, the sheer physical presence of the person opposite you, the sounds of the room and the world outside. And another part of the mind, or perhaps the heart, falls into a semi-conscious slumber, like when you are sitting on the back seat of the car as a child, gazing out the window, as your parents talk about important things you only vaguely understand.

And the soul, somehow, at least in the context of a retreat like this, can be liberated into a kind of domestic contemplation, a stillness that you carry from the chapel into the dining room, that isn’t disturbed by the need to chat over lunch.

It reminds me of the film The Reader (I haven’t read the original novel), where the central part of their complicated relationship is her request to be read to (I won’t give any plot away!). And one of the parents who helped me with the parents booklet gave this simple advice:

Encourage your children to read. Go to the library with them. And continue to read aloud to them, even if they can read well themselves. It gives you an opportunity to talk and learn and grow together. You can usually find a book to read to children of different ages, so your children can be together in this way now and then.

So it’s good to be read to now and then!

Do you have any moments, as an adult, when someone reads to you, or when you are in a group that is being read to? I think it’s quite rare, but I might be wrong.

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What do you think of these ten tips? They are entitled ‘How to work better’, but I think they make a great set of rules for life. If I could follow just one or two of them for just a few minutes each day, I would be a lot further down the road to self-enlightenment and general well-being.

It’s interesting where I found them. I went to Tate Modern this week to see the Gauguin exhibition, and I entered by the staff entrance round the back, because I was visiting with someone who uses a wheelchair, and this is the temporary entrance for disabled visitors. And these ten rules were displayed for the staff as they went to work each day, not on a scruffy sheet of A4 pinned to the door, but on a huge 5 foot poster stuck on the wall next to the lift. Impressive! And the staff were unfailingly courteous.

In case you can’t read the image, or want to paste them elsewhere, here they are in plain text:

HOW TO WORK BETTER

  1. Do one thing at a time
  2. Know the problem
  3. Learn to listen
  4. Learn to ask questions
  5. Distinguish sense from nonsense
  6. Accept change as inevitable
  7. Admit mistakes
  8. Say it simple
  9. Be calm
  10. Smile

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A nice post from Geoffrey Webb here about how technology can get in the way of ordinary human interaction. As much as anything, it’s about how easy it is to become bad mannered with other people, and to use new technologies as an excuse for a simple lack of attentiveness to those around us.

As your mother might have told you, “Listen to someone when they talk to you!”

It’s become grossly apparent to me how much we allow technology to get in the way of connecting with each other. I’m not suggesting that technology is the problem; in fact, I’m an avid and active proponent for social media and the interactive web. It’s not the technology, it’s how we use the technology.

Here are my favourites from Webb’s ten rules:

Close your laptop. If you’re working on your laptop and someone enters the room to talk with you, close your laptop and focus on them. Same thing in a meeting, close that laptop whenever you can. If it needs to remain open for reference or note-taking, try to place it at angle so the screen isn’t a barrier between you and others.

Single task during conference calls.
The temptation is huge. Odds are, no one will ever know if you’re checking email, reading a book, or even taking a nap. It’s a character and respect issue. If it’s not that important, then don’t be on the call; if it is that important, then be fully on the call.

Single task with live people.
Resist the temptation to check your email or surf the web or update your status while simultaneously carrying on a real-live conversation.

Don’t call after hours. We all have answering machines now so it’s easy to avoid the human contact by simply calling early in the morning or late at night. Have the guts to call during office hours.

Don’t let your email or phone rule you. Ever been having a conversation with someone, their cellphone rings and they just silence it without breaking contact with you. They don’t even check to see who it was. How’s that make you feel? Important? Valued? What about the opposite: You’re meeting someone in their office and the phone rings or an email arrives (bing!), and they interrupt the conversation to answer the phone or check that message. How’s that make you feel? Second-rate? Second-fiddle?

Ban phones from meetings. Like shoes in the Far East, or guns in the Old West, phones should be left at the door in corporate meetings. Some companies collect them in a box. Others charge the individual when it rings in a meeting (or they have to buy dinner/drinks afterward).

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