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Mary H. Ruth : Listening: Basic to Creativity and to Business

Listening: Basic to Creativity and to Business

By Mary H. Ruth

One of the most important disciplines in developing individual creativity is listening. Creative people attend their subjects with skilled concentration. They're intimately familiar with the state of intense absorption that characterizes profound listening. They use what they learn while listening to make the new connections they seek.

Knowing how to listen well is a huge part of being creative and an important factor in business success as well. But for some reason, it is not a well known practice. We're traditionally taught to work myopically towards our goals, to plow through obstacles, to attain against all odds. The problem with this tactic is that it cuts us off from reality and we can easily find ourselves up the creek and paddle less.

The old way is grounded in the philosophy that man is the master of his destiny. The new way stems from understanding that people collectively are responsible for the planet and for all our lifestyles. We are damned individually, but saved only collectively. This is a sophisticated understanding, one we're only just beginning to assimilate.

Listening requires:

  • the ability to establish inner quiet,
  • the willingness to observe without judgment,
  • the personal strength to allow openness to any and all stimuli.

Listening should be applied to your inner self, to the movements of your personal energies and emotions. This can be done through quiet times, meditation, journaling.

Listening should be applied regularly in relationships as well. The Quakers teach an awesome practice in which the listener asks questions, but only those questions that will help the speaker, and never just to satisfy the questioner's curiosity. Such intense and compassionate listening is designed to efficiently help someone. Simpler, everyday listening will work perfectly in most situations, and it's just a matter of remembering to do it, regularly and authentically.

Listening is female in that it is emptying out of self, allowing an inner hollowness so that information can freely flow. In order to be a good listener, you have to silence yourself, and your crazy monkey thoughts. You have to have enough confidence in existence to let yourself be an open receptacle without fear of annihilation. You have to see yourself in context with your surroundings, a puzzle piece but not the whole picture. You have to be steadfastly open and compassionate.

Listening requires dedicated ongoing practice in quieting yourself. Bear in mind the important truth: we are given two ears and just one mouth so that we may listen twice as much as we speak!

In business, listening translates into several practices that benefit leaders and workers alike. Making listening an important part of organizational structure means that the business:

  • is keenly tuned in to customer reactions;
  • works smoothly and harmoniously with vendors;
  • anticipates personnel problems before they arise;
  • has a well-appreciated and confident staff;
  • tends to be tuned in to world events, and ready with solutions whenever possible;
  • can quickly respond to new opportunities because of an intimate connection to all working parts.

Hopefully, we've all experienced the business that listens well to us as customers. Soliciting customer input, attentiveness to customer problems and needs, adapting products to suit customer preferences are all examples of proper business listening. This extends to affiliates and vendors, as well; the business that's continually seeking a more perfect segue, that adapts to create win-win deals, and that stays wide open to new opportunities from the outside is a business that's likely to benefit significantly from its listening practices.

What about listening as it pertains to management, staff relations, and the productivity of your organization? Managers that are careful listeners will anticipate problems and respond to needs in ample time to steady any dangerous situations. So listening is an important ongoing daily practice for leadership.

The performance evaluation is a venerable tradition that's often neglected, especially in small businesses, but it's a listening practice that can make the difference between a happy staff and a restless one. At least every six months, management and staff should share a tête-à-tête, during which feedback is freely given on both sides, and the discussion spills over into personal life as it relates to work. The opportunity to communicate the simple 'here's how I'm doing' is invaluable, and without this regular 'checking in,' managers quickly lose touch.

Now, the truly advanced operation will include even more obvious listening practices. Here are some outrageous suggestions that could very well become standard in the business of the future:

  • Each day starts with t'ai-chi, yoga, stretches or other physical enlivening of the entire staff together.
  • At several regular intervals throughout the day, a bell is rung and all staff keep silence for one full minute.
  • All staff are trained in listening and feedback skills.
  • At least every six months, staff retreats are held off-site, and include meditative, team building, and discussion activities.

Please note that these suggestions apply as well to the solopreneur as to the fully staffed business.

If we plan to survive in relative happiness as the 21st century progresses, we're going to have to narrow the alienating gap between our existence in business and our lives as individuals. We can use the creativity practice of listening as the path to wholeness as we seek the synthesis of who we are with what we do. •

© 2008 Mary H. Ruth. All rights reserved.

Mary H. RuthMary H. Ruth owns and operates Virtual Writing & Communications Solutions, offering writing and administrative support for businesses and professionals. More »