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  • benjaminnewman01

Mod. 3 - Deep Listening in Practice

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

I really appreciate the opportunity to think deeply about my decision making process. The last two years have given me a chance to shape that process in ways I had not had previously and it has shown me how much I value alignment with others or my team. I tend to overthink about the elements at play in making an important decision, and that tends to make me lose sight of the larger picture, opportunities and risks.

Lately, I’ve been trying to have more conversations with my partner, my family, and colleagues in which I ask the question “What do you want?” In my experience, I’ve found that this question is often reserved for individuals interviewing for a senior leadership role, or are considering a major life decision, but rarely have I seen the question asked to younger professionals. Almost as if they aren’t allowed to ask the question or don’t have permission to ask for what they want. When I do ask the question, I find it has a mirror effect on people; as if they’re seeing themselves in a way they’d not been able to previously and their answers often reflect their humanity and core values.

When I’ve envisioned myself in a hiring capacity building my team, I often think about what questions I would ask to candidates. I’m less interested in the technical skills of what they bring to the table and more interested in who they are as people. During my time at Union Square Cafe in New York City I learned about a concept called the 51% principle. The idea was that the job of being a server is 49% the technical execution of the job and 51% how the server makes guests feel. That idea led the interviewing process to be more focused on whether the candidate was able to make the hiring manager feel taken care of, and one barometer they discovered was shared among all of the hiring managers was that if they came away from the interview thinking “I want to invite that person over to my house for dinner” then they were probably a good fit. The idea of hospitality or taking care of people is fundamental to everything I do. Regardless of age, experience, gender, race, sexual orientation or social status, if I am going to invest in you, I need to know what you need in order to be taken care of.

I recently learned about a company that matches professional coaches to employees in order to increase their performance at work. They discovered that many employees were scared to share what they needed in order to be taken care of, and as a result were compromising elements of their personal lives that were impacting their performance at work. They felt that if they shared their needs at work, they would be perceived as a liability or less committed to the job. Working with a professional coach allowed the employees to express their frustrations with an objective 3rd party who was not looking out for the company’s best interest, but their own, and the coaches were able to help the employees reduce fear by helping them find creative solutions for challenges at work and ultimately increase job performance, satisfaction and tenure.

Reflecting on my own listening practice, I realized that I struggle to connect with two groups: straight people, particularly men, and older people. In regards to straight men, I often feel as if I’m fighting an uphill battle of unspoken and unconscious expectations of how a man is supposed to act and subsequent judgments if and when I don’t meet those expectations. I’ve found that I have to “man up” or “bro out” in order to connect with them or be taken seriously. Regarding older people, I’ve discovered a deep divide in generational values and as a result, I feel lost in how to act and what to say. Similar to my experience with straight men, I’ve found that representing myself genuinely leads me to be received as someone who is either not serious or untrustworthy.

Of course, it would be naive for me to think that I’m not also having an impact on them. With straight men I’ve found my impact ranges from unconscious fears about gay men hitting on them (among other stereotypes about gay men) to their own inability to relate to non-straight men which causes them to shut down or avoid interactions with me. With older people, I feel pressure from respectability politics. I find that if I smile a lot, don’t say too much, and conform to the status quo, then I can avoid creating a negative impact. This constant insecurity on my part makes trying to listen deeply to both of these groups very challenging for me.

Ironically, when I think about the person I admire most for their listening capacity, my deaf grandmother is the first person who comes to mind. Similar to the multi-sensory aspect of deep listening that was shared in the readings, I found that my grandmother was much more attune to her environment than others because she had to find alternative ways of connecting with people. The fact that she was deaf also caused others to let down their own guard, knowing that the experience of interacting with her socially would inherently be different. Like many members of the deaf community, my grandmother was very friendly with just about everyone. I’ll never forget when I was younger, my brothers and I were playing indoor roller hockey and my grandparents would come watch us play. Following one of our matches, we came back to the house for dinner and while no one was paying attention, she walked out of the room and came back wearing a hockey helmet, gloves and holding a hockey stick ready to play. We all burst out laughing as she came up to me and my brothers as if she was on the rink trying to skate around us to get to the goal. It was gestures like this that made a lasting impression and taught me how to be patient and pay attention to what was going on around me and how small details often reveal what is important to people. It also showed me that you don’t need to be able to hear in order to listen.

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