Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thin Slicing, Malcolm Gladwell, and the Chinese character for listening

Apparently, the Chinese character for listening is made up of other characters (or perhaps traces of characters) for the ear, the eye, and the heart. That surely suggests something vital about listening. And listening is a skill that is in desperately short supply in this era of overstimulation and information overload.

One of the worst pieces of advice in recent years came in the Malcolm Gladwell book Blink in which he described the phenomenon of ‘thin-slicing’ people when you meet them by just getting a quick gut read on them in a matter of seconds or nano-seconds and then assuming that you’ve got all you need to know. Malcolm argues that thin-slicing is a reasonably accurate way of checking someone out.

Of course, if everyone did that, none of us would ever listen to anyone again. We’d save loads of time, and we’d learn virtually nothing about the external world. It’s a recipe for global disaster from an otherwise brilliant writer.

Which brings me back to listening and that Chinese character. We don’t need to listen less, or faster; we need to listen to each other more, and more deeply. We need to hear, and appreciate, and learn, each other’s stories. If you don’t think so, ask yourself this: when are you going to start paying attention? In the next life, whatever that is?

We need to listen to each other because life is precious, and short. We need to listen to each other because despite our superficial disagreements and differences, we humans are still the best hope and the gravest danger for the planet we call home. We need to listen to each other because we need to work together in peace in order to build a better world. We need to listen to each other because lives need to be shared, we are a communal species, and isolation kills.

Please. When you listen, listen with your whole body. Use your ears, of course, but also use your eye and your heart. Listen for the facts, of course, but also listen for the underlying emotions and values of the other person. Only when you listen that carefully and deeply can you begin to understand and then communicate with another person. I don’t know if the Chinese character for listening really does include the characters for the ear, the eye, and the heart, but I do know that listening needs to include all those things.

Let's start listening better to one another and maybe -- just maybe -- we can save this magical planet and the precious, irreplaceable people on it.

With thanks to Dr. Liane Davey for explaining the Chinese character to me.

Reposted from; http://publicwords.typepad.com/nickmorgan/2012/09/thin-slicing-malcolm-gladwell-and-the-chinese-character-for-listening.html