When I was in my first year of college, I was given the Book “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck.  The first sentence resounded with me as I struggled with emotions.  I had just lost my mother in the middle of a week of very difficult university tests.  The rest of the paragraph gave me comfort and insight.

“Life is difficult.  This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth, because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult–once we truly understand and accept it–then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

I was determining my direction in life and this helped to move me forward.

 

On visits home, my father had often invited me to come to one of his Toastmaster’s clubs.  In his downtown club was a gentleman who had been a favorite of mine as a teenager.  Courtney had been to radio announcer for our local city radio station. He had once had a deep resonant voice with a range of pitch and volume that could entertain even the most aloof listener. Now, he had lost his larynx and very nearly his life to cancer of the throat.

 

Yet, here was Courtney, arduously manipulating the limited electro-larynx, sounding like a robot and working to develop pacing and strategies that would somewhat humanize his speaking. To understand him, the audience had to listen very closely.  Each of us had to analyze, edit and wait as he spoke and closely watched his audience for cues; cues on what he was to change or repeat to be more readily understood.

 

His audience was a group of patient and supportive Toastmasters. The group was composed of a couple of farmers, two professionals – One a scientist from India and another an Asian engineer that were from the local research division of an international company; three or four local business owners, my father among them, a physician and Courtney.  We all listened raptly.

Please remember that I was a nineteen-year-old, not known for listening.  Like most, I liked to hear the sound of my own voice and have others listen to me.

This group of Toastmasters and Courtney taught me a fascinating lesson.  Listening was an invigorating experience.  I listened with my eyes and ears, watching and discerning each movement and analyzing how Courtney managed to make a robotic voice come alive.  I listened to the sounds and words, finding that I needed to edit and then come back to the speech, working to keep abreast of the story.  I watched Courtney observe his audience. He listened to their sighs, adjusted and repeated as needed, adding gestures and facial movements to illustrate his points. He did all this with a robotic-sounding, battery-powered mechanism he held against his scarred neck.

He worked as hard or even harder at listening and observing as the audience did.

Life, then, was extremely painful and difficult for Courtney.  He had accepted it and was moving on, trying, failing, retrying, learning and excelling.

The lesson gained from Courtney and Toastmasters was to:

  • Listen more intently
  • Observe more thoroughly …..And….
  • Find out how to help individuals of all types to become better speakers.

How to develop an “Articulate Advantage”, no matter what our circumstances.

Resistance to Change?
I periodically work with executive and communication coach, Suzanne Bates of Bates Communications and subscribe to her blog. Her weekly blog post, “Thoughts for Tuesday” struck a cord today.

This week’s “Thoughts for Tuesday” post was about moving and change…. something that most of my clients have done in a big way. Moving from one country to another. I understand. My husband and I have moved many times, both domestically and internationally.

Resistance happens.

It’s what my mother-in-law (my husband’s mother) calls the “Moving Crazies”.

With every move of many different extended family members, each individual has had to learn new ‘cultures” and communication styles of the regions, new traffic patterns, new foods, find new friends, support systems. And adapt to new schools and work environments.

It’s hard to learn new lifestyle habits. Our brain has its own resistance to change.

Having to learn new communication skills as well as new cultural behaviors can create “Resistance”. Most resist and then tentatively try again. You gain what seems to be an “acceptable” communication style, which works…for a while.

Then you get a new position, a new boss, or new co-workers. There are miscommunications and missed opportunities. You resist and ignore these, thinking that it will be okay. Yet, it’s not. You find more missed opportunities because you are left out of conversations or miss pieces of information.

I have great admiration for those who follow their careers to a totally new country, leaving family and familiar support systems far behind. I’ve done this.

Resistance happened.

And, as I’ve learned from a many of my clients, co-workers and friends… When misunderstandings happen;

Ask for help. Find out what you do right as well as what’s wrong.
Get advice for one to two actions that you can work to change for 30-60 days.
Daily practice that action. Nothing happens without practice.
Get an “Accountability Partner” to give you honest feedback every week or so.
When you can readily and easily do these actions, choose two more.
Celebrate your successes with a friend, a reward for habituating your new skill. When our success is celebrated with someone else, we are more likely to maintain that skill.
Enjoy and embrace the exhilaration of new learning. Change is worth it.

In my flexible editorial planning calendar, I had wanted to talk about how to dress for summer business events….then, I spotted Kare Anderson’s June 2012 article in the Harvard Business Review.

It reminded me that most folks won’t care what we are wearing when we listen to them attentively. When we do, these folks think we are the most interesting person in the world…. Ms. Anderson stated that the value of giving undivided attention is as beneficial to the giver as the receiver.

As a child, I spent many hours in an Andrew Carnegie library; the kind of library with granite steps leading up to solid doors that opened into a world of ideas, experiences and wondrous stories. I also spent time at my father’s real estate office. His office was often the gathering place of business people. They spoke about their own world of ideas, experiences, wondrous stories and life’s learning.

In my mind, the people I met at my dad’s office were each like libraries – I needed to learn their content too. It was easy: all I had to do was sit back and be enlightened, educated and entertained.

Learning how to listen, how ask the right questions, how to empathize and still contribute meaningfully is a life-long endeavor. However, attempting to be the center of attention is so much more work and, more importantly, ineffective. Our audience gets bored with us.

There’s a professional association with chapters around the world where people go to learn how to listen well and speak well: Toastmasters International. Visit a club near you; you can get invited as a guest (for free).

I’ve belonged to clubs in several US cities as well as China. By participating, I’ve benefited from many fascinating stories and a wealth of knowledge.

The world is full of walking libraries that come in all sizes and shapes. Two-year-old to 102 year-old folks are equally fascinating. Especially when you actively listen.