Home » Posts tagged 'Active listening'
Tag Archives: Active listening
- Small talk is not so small
- Clarity of Purpose: Have a Clear Voice and Clear Topic to Get your Message Across
- Technical Skills Can Land You a Good Job, but it Won’t Help You Climb the Job Ladder: The Importance of Communication Skills at Work
- At a Job Interview, Think of Your Experience as a Bunch of Brightly Coloured Story Balloons
- “The Machine Stops”: A 1909 novel by E. M. Forster that predicted our addiction with social media (like “Wall-E”, but written 100 years previously)
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“The Machine Stops”: A 1909 novel by E. M. Forster that predicted our addiction with social media (like “Wall-E”, but written 100 years previously)
In my last post, I discussed how the emphasis on texting and striving to receive as many “likes!” as possible on social media can actually make people less social.
A novel was written about this inverse relationship…it takes place in a bleak future.
In this dystopian universe, most of the population lives underground. Each person inhabits his or her little cell and gets sustenance from the ubiquitous “Machine”. This is not a lonely world—oh, no, for people are glued to each other through the Machine, through which they communicate with all their “friends” and discuss ideas (most of which are not that good). This superficial world is a safe one, and most people like it that way. (They also get all their sustenance through The Machine, and eventually start to worship it as a deity.)
Does this world seem just a little bit familiar?
Travel is considered an onerous task and no one wants to do it: face-to-face communication is considered exhausting at best and rude and uncivilised at worst. In a scene from the book, the main character, Vashti, is on a plane. She stumbles, and the flight attendant touches her arm in order to steady her:
When Vashti swerved away from the sunbeams with a cry, she (the flight attendant) behaved barbarically—she put out her hand to steady her.
“How dare you!” exclaimed the passenger (Vashti). “You forget yourself!”
The woman was confused, and apologized for not having let her fall. People never touched one another. The custom had become obsolete, owing to the Machine.
What is this book—futuristic sci fi, written by a technophobe with a bad attitude who was simply sick and tired of too much texting?
No. This novella was written in 1909 by E. M. Forster (of A Room with a View and A Passage to India fame). Its title is The Machine Stops, and I’d recommend it to anyone; it’s a fabulous, easy read—and you can download it, legally, for free.
1909! This was the Edwardian era: pre-World War I, with men in stiff collars, women sporting stiff hair styles, and everyone with stiff upper lips. Queen Victoria had just died eight years previously. I’m astonished that Forster was able to predict the type of behaviour that is becoming all too prevalent today: an addiction to communicating on machines, and a resulting aversion to face-to-face communication
Now, who knows what all this online communication means for the future. Pundits have made dire predictions that have been totally erroneous; could be we’re shaking our heads over nothing. We’re facing a brave new world that, hopefully, will not become the kind of horrible, dehumanizing universe as envisioned by either Aldous Huxley of the real Brave New World fame—or that of E. M. Forster.
PS There have been a few video adaptations of this novella, but I would think a major production is in order. Here is one version:
In two recent blogs, I discussed how using empathy can help you in most social interactions.
In the first blog (https://eloquentenglishsite.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/how-to-use-free-association-to-build-a-bridge-in-socialising-and-creating-bonds/), I wrote about the importance of finding the other person’s “why” —his or her passion—in order to forge powerful bridges with that individual.
The second blog (https://eloquentenglishsite.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/537/) took this “why” approach and applied it to a specific job interview.
There is one theme that binds together these two blogs: The most important step you can do in having meaningful conversations is by not focusing on yourself and immediately listing all the wonderful things you can offer. Rather, work on understanding the other individual and determining what is important to him or her, and then convince that person that you share similar passions. (If this is true; if it is not true, do you want to be working with that person?)
You do this through having real curiosity about others; through associating one idea with another; by using you own general knowledge to elicit more information.
Here are some examples.
Setting: You’re speaking with an important client over coffee, and the client mentions that he is from Holland. What can you say here? What do you know about Holland? (Hopefully, you know it’s in Europe.) Quickly pull up categories that could be used to find out more about that person.
The graphic, below, would show the type categories of knowledge I have about Holland:
With these associations, I would ask these type questions (look at the associations starting at “noon” and going clockwise around the circle):
I’ve always admired the art of Rembrandt, Vermeer (etc.) and am dying to visit the Rijksmuseum. Have you been?
I just read an article about global warming and I understand that Holland is below sea level. Is global warming a threat to your country? How is it handling that threat?
I love to garden and have seen amazing pictures of your country in the spring with all those beautiful flowers. Is it as gorgeous as I think it is? Where do you go to see all the bulbs in bloom? When is the best time?
Pardon my ignorance, but I know very little about the Dutch language (and you speak English so well). I’ve heard it spoken a few times and it sounds a little like German; is Dutch a Germanic language? Is it hard to learn?
You’d be surprised at how much you really DO know about a topic; you simply need to learn how to quickly retrieve that knowledge to ask questions.
Why bother with this? You really don’t care about the Netherlands; you don’t give a toss about whether the language is related to German or not. Well, here are two things to think about:
- Everything can be interesting for its own sake; why not learn something new just for the sake of learning something new??
- This type questioning shows people that you are interested in them and want to understand what is important to them. THIS technique should be your foundation of communication, for people crave being understood, being “listened-to.” Once you have established this foundation of empathy, you can build a relationship by telling them about you and what you can offer.
Let’s look at one more situation. You’re in a conference and it’s break time; you’re chatting with a CEO of a tech start-up that excites you and you’d like to know more about it. You know several things about this company, and now you have the chance to make an impression. You do this best by asking targeted questions about the company, not by talking about yourself. (In this association exercise, I will demonstrate my own lack of knowledge about tech start-ups, but wanted to use a more technical situation, so bear with me:)
If I were in this situation, I would ask these type questions (again, start with the “noon” position and go clockwise):
I understand you are doing very exciting things with (mention whatever platform, software or hardware it is…) I’ve been exploring that area, too, and would enjoy hearing your experience using it.
I just read an article about your company trying to improve (fill in the blank) and to meet this social / technical need (whatever it might be). In my spare time, I’ve been working on similar things. Tell me more about what your company wants to achieve.
Do you have much competition in this area? What do you hope to accomplish in five or ten years—or is it too early to be even thinking about that?
I understand you have a background in (fill in the blank) and that you got your idea for this start up by (fill in the blank). That’s fascinating—I’d love to hear more about how you started your company, and what were the main obstacles you had to overcome.
If you can start using this technique of using your own varied knowledge to build bridges with others, soon they will be asking about you. And then it will be your turn to shine.
I am a communications coach in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and my company is called Eloquent English:
www.eloquentenglish.com. I offer workshops in public speaking,
self-presentation, active listening and pronunciation, among others.
Email me at email@example.com
Remember: “It’s your story. Get it right.”
I’ll start this blog with a story that relates to the last blog I posted, in which I stated that:
- Learning to listen and discover the other person’s “why” for doing what they do is significant because
- With this information, you can align your “why” with their “why”. Then the real interaction and mutual benefit can take place.
I did this when I was living in Singapore. I had received a call from the assistant of a very high-ranking government official: I was being considered as a public speaking coach for this gentleman; might we be able to discuss this project soon? He would like to visit me in my home.
Eeek. I also discovered that this official was involved in government security; when I told my friends who this person was, they freaked out. “You do realize you are being observed right now,” they said, “and ALL your records are being gone over with a fine-tooth comb.” They then ran away so they wouldn’t be seen in public with me.
Well. I sighed, cleaned my apartment and waited for the meeting. At exactly the appointed time, a black limo glided into view and there was a knock on my door.
A very mild-looking, trim man came in. He was modest in demeanour and soft-spoken—not a scary individual at all. He quickly glanced around the apartment and made a small nod—of approval, I thought. I invited him to sit and offered him tea, which he politely declined.
So what happened? Did he ask me piercing questions about my past, trying to sniff out any infractions I might have committed? Absolutely not. We spoke about Singapore history, the effectiveness of many of its policies, the social problems the country still faced and possible solutions. We did not discuss any business interaction, and I did not rush in to reassure him that I could be a fabulous coach. At the end of the interview he smiled, shook my hand and said, “We’ll be in touch.”
Within a few hours, I had this man as a client.
#1 (of course), my apartment was pristinely clean—reflecting the respect due an honoured guest
#2, I demonstrated to him that, though I was an outsider living in Singapore, I was an interested outsider. I knew key things about its history, I spoke with sincere admiration about many of the island’s accomplishments and yet also demonstrated I was not blind to some of the social problems its citizens faced.
#3, I listened carefully to what he said, asked him to clarify some of the things he mentioned, and made it clear that I was honoured to learn from him.
Basically, I let this individual know that I appreciated living in Singapore and was committed to living there and understanding as much about it as I could. I cared about the country and communicated my concern and interest.
This government official and I shared this interest. That was enough for him; I got the job.
In the next blog, I’ll discuss how I used active listening to draw the person out. I’ll examine the bits of that conversation and what made me get the gig.
I’m owner of the Melbourne-based company Eloquent English, and I can help you find YOUR story: in a CV, a job interview, a website, annual report or a presentation.
“It’s your story. Get it right.”
OK, I lie. What I’m about to discuss is not free association per se; that’s a technique in which the patient blurts out any thought associations that come to mind, no matter how seemingly unrelated they may seem to be.
In this blog and the next, I’ll be taking a modified version of this exercise to help you become the best conversationalist you can be. These days, hundreds of people are competing for everyone’s attention: between the Facebook posts and Tweets, how can you get someone to pay attention to YOU and what YOU can offer? It’s not easy to stand above the crowd.
The unfortunate reality is: we are all selfish beasts at heart. When you’re trying to impress someone else, you need to remember that the other person is doubtless thinking: “What’s in it for me? Why should I be interested in this person?”
This harsh reality is especially true when we’re searching for mentors, job leads or are facing a job interview. If you can find out what you and the other person have in common—and can focus on those commonalities—you can create a bond that just might lead to someplace amazing.
Motivational speaker Simon Sinek gave one of the most famous Ted talks of all time, with millions of hits*. His message is a simple one:
We do not make decisions logically. We make decisions with the part of our brain that processes feelings like trust and loyalty. We do not automatically analyse data and then carefully make a decision.
You need to make people get to the “Why”: WHY should they be interested in you? What’s in it for them? Simply listing all the wonderful things you can offer won’t get you anywhere, for everyone does this; your words will become part of the endless chatter and noise that usually lead to Nowheresville. You need to forge a connection between you and the other person: Why do you want to get out of bed in the morning? What passion motivates you? Do you and the other share the same passion? It’s up to YOU to build a bridge that links you and the other through verbal acts of active discovery.
I gave a communications workshop at a scientific organisation in Melbourne the other week, and one of the participants left, saying, “Gee, this is more complex than I thought.”
Yes, that is true. But learning how to (kind of) free associate with the other individual, to get to each other’s similar “why” can result in wonderful things.
Specific techniques will come tomorrow. Stay tuned.
I’m owner of the Melbourne-based company Eloquent English, and I can help you find YOUR story: in a CV, a job interview, a website, annual report or a presentation.
“It’s your story. Get it right.”
My last blog was on learning how to become a great conversationalist through careful observation and listening, and asking targeted questions. As mentioned, when you do this, you can create a bond with the other person, and through such bonding, many wonderful things may happen. (https://eloquentenglishsite.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/i-know-the-difference-between-open-ended-and-close-ended-questions-and-i-still-cant-talk-to-strangers-whats-going-on/).
I just finished a book by Michael Faber* called Under the Skin. What a strange book: part science fiction, part horror, part black comedy. After reading it, I realized that it perfectly illustrates how to use open-ended questions to create an empathic bond with others — but in this case, the reason for developing this empathy is so, so wrong.
Potential Spoiler Alert
The main character’s name is Isserley, and when you meet her, she is driving around Scotland, trying to pick up men: she only wants well-muscled, fit specimens. As you continue to read, you realise that there is something not quite right about her: her appearance, the way she talks . . . and that she happily anaesthetises each man after she’s chatted with him. Eventually you realise that she is taking them to her company’s headquarters so her colleagues can kill them for meat. Isserley and her co-workers come from another planet, and they do not recognise us Earthlings as being truly human; they do love munching on our tender flesh, however.
Isserley understands that she must select people who do not have family or friends in the area, because their absence would be immediately noted; hence, she drives extremely carefully to avoid police detection and asks all her potential victims targeted, open-ended questions to get them to open up to her so she can ascertain whether they can safely disappear. Forever. Bums, drunkards, students, professionals; she knows how to chat them all up.
Below are two examples of her conversations with potential victims. I have sometimes changed the words to standard English versus the thick Scottish dialect Faber has his characters speak. (I stands for Isserley and V for Victim.)
I: “So what brings you out on the road today?”
V: “Staying at home was driving me crazy.”
I: “In between jobs, then?”
V: “Jobs don’t exist up here. No such fuckin’ thing.”
I: “The government still expects you to look for them though, doesn’t it?”
Go, Isserley. She infers that the guy is out of work because he is staying at home all day. Aha! If this guy isn’t working, maybe he doesn’t have a lot of contacts, so he could be a possible specimen.
I: “What is there for you in Thurso?
V: “I don’t know. Perhaps nothing.”
I: “And if there is nothing?”
V: “I’m going there because I have never been there.”
I: “You’re travelling through the entire country?”
I: “Travelling alone?”
I: “For the first time?”
V: “When I was young I have travelled a lot in Europe with my parents.”
OK, she does ask close-ended questions as well, but Isserley is weaving a web of questions around her victims, just as a spider does to a fly. Very soon, these men find themselves giving away far too much information under her seemingly harmless queries.
Hopefully, you do not want to create empathy for destructive purposes! I hope it can be argued that one can learn from terrible people (or aliens) as well as from wonderful ones . . . and fiction, in the hands of a skilful writer, can illuminate communication better than almost anything.
Next time you pick up a book, start noticing the type conversations the characters have with each other. Doubtless you can learn tons from your own books, as well. Feel free to email me with interesting titles!
*Under the Skin by Michael Faber. New York: Harcourt, 2000.
(In 2014, this book was the inspiration for a film of the same name, starring Scarlett Johansson.)
I am a communications coach in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and my company is called Eloquent English: www.eloquentenglish.com.
I offer workshops in public speaking, self presentation, active listening and pronunciation, among others.
I know the difference between open-ended and close-ended questions—and I still can’t talk to strangers! What’s going on?
I was leading a workshop on Having a Conversation with Australians several weeks ago when a participant stated, “Look, I understand that you’re to ask people open-ended questions in order to have a good conversation. But once I ask this type question and they give a response, I’m like, ‘Uhh . . . OK,’ and then I don’t know what to do.”
Excellent point. First, let’s backtrack a bit.
#1, what’s the issue with open-ended and close-ended questions and socialising? Open-ended questions are just that: a question that requires more than a “yes-or-no” response. Close-ended questions are answered with a single “yes”, “no” or single-word response.
Close-ended question: Did you have a good time at footy yesterday?
Open-ended question: Tell me a little about the footy game you went to over the weekend; I’ve never been to one and am thinking of going to a game.
A: Well, FIRST . . . (and away they go!)
I’m sure you can see how trying to generate open-ended answers will be much more fruitful—and interesting—than simply getting a lot of “Uhh . . . yes . . . no . . . yellow!” as responses. That’s like pulling teeth! Generating extended narratives and (potentially) exciting stories is what you want for the following reasons: 1) The speaker will think YOU are a fabulous conversationalist (even though YOU’RE doing all the listening) and 2) You can really get to know a person this way and create a bond with that person. Which is what you want, whether you are seeking potential mentors, friends or business connections.
Active listening is what it’s all about.
But that workshop participants had a good point. Plying the active listening trade really is easy, but you should know a few tricks in order to become a master.
Let me give you an example. This young participant and I were doing a role play about chatting with someone in a café. The conversation was to be on coffee. (And using the old “come-here-often”? ploy usually falls F.L.A.T.)
P (participant): “So, err, what kind of coffee do you prefer?
M (me): “Black, usually.”
P: “Uhh . . . OK . . .” and she looked at me helplessly and fell out of her role. “See, now I don’t know what to do!”
So, what DO you say, now that you know this person likes black coffee? Lots! Scour your brain. What do you know about black coffee and human beings? Keep being focused on that person. Look at that individual closely and try and make connections between coffee and that individual. It’s not about YOU, it’s about the PERSON YOU’RE TRYIING TO GET TO KNOW. Here are a few options. They may not be witty, but they’ll get the job done and will require a detailed response from the other individual:
Black! Wow. You must be a real coffee connoisseur.
I tried drinking black, but I need milk and sugar. How do you get used to drinking black coffee?
Are there certain coffee beans that you like more than others?
I also love black coffee. Do you think certain types of people that like their coffee black? (This one may be a bit . . . yukky, perhaps like you’re trying to flirt. And if you are—try it!)
You look very fit (if the person does look athletic). Do you deliberately drink black coffee as part of your diet? (This response will give the person a compliment, AND demand a more detailed answer—killing two proverbial birds with one stone! Good on ya!)
You might NOT want to puff up your own knowledge and say things such as: “Coffee originated in Ethiopia, you know. . .” and then spout a litany of facts, or say, “I read a report that stated that drinking black coffee can make your hair fall out.” Remember, it’s not about you.
Let’s say this person answered to your #2 question, on getting used to drinking black coffee:
It took me a few years, but now I can’t stand milk or sugar in my coffee; it’s too sweet and rich for me that way.
Now, THERE’S an opening. You could then say:
You must be a disciplined person. Are you disciplined in other areas, as well?
Let me guess. You don’t consume many sweets, do you?
Do you eat cheese, then? Cheese has milk in it. I couldn’t live without cheese! (OK, this response DOES have “you” in it, but you are humorously contrasting yourself with that person who you are praising as being very disciplined.)
I hope you see the pattern here. FOCUS ON the person, LISTEN to the person’s response, make connections, actively show your interest in what that person has to say and see where it takes you.
I am a communications coach in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and my company is called Eloquent English: www.eloquentenglish.com. I offer workshops in public speaking, self presentation, active listening and pronunciation, among others.