Listening plus action equals connection
The first time I met my brother-in-law was at a ceremony celebrating his completion of a 3 year Buddhist retreat, during which time he and 20 other guys lived together in confines no larger than a basketball court.
For most of the day I hung back in the shadows and listened to my wife’s family laugh, but after things slowed down, he and I grabbed a moment and sat down to get to know each other.
After exchanging basic pleasantries and a few jokes, I finally asked him the only question that had been on my mind the whole day — 3 years. Close Quarters. 20 other people. How did you do it?
And the words that came next changed how I looked at myself and the world around me.
“The first few months were a challenge. However, around the 90 day mark I felt a shift, and I stopped thinking about what differentiated me from the rest, and I started paying attention to the attributes I had that connected me to the rest.”
I was once told that we spend the first half of our lives collecting, and the second half determining what to keep.
The lesson above, passed down to me over a lousy cup of coffee in a remote village in France, is hands down one of the lessons I hope I never lose. Because they marked the day I finally began thinking about how I should be using my skills to make a positive contribution to society, instead of thinking only about my strengths for personal gain.
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” ― John Lennon
Connecting with others starts and stops with your ability to listen:
Those who make the most positive impact on society come in many shapes and sizes, but the characteristic that runs consistent is that they prioritize their two ears over their one mouth.
Instead of being like most people who are, “Short on ears and long on mouth (Thanks John Wayne),” strong listeners train their ears to listen for understanding in order to properly identify the wants and needs of others.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” — Stephen R. Covey
I grew up stuttering and I used to say that as a result it forced me to be a good listener. But that was a lie.
I was so self consumed with my stutter that I rarely thought about anyone else but myself. Fortunately for me, I had a great speech therapist who recognised this, and she taught me to prioritize listening to others in order to get over my stutter (smart huh?).
She forced me to make a habit of writing down three things I learned after each conversation, and somewhere along the way, I slowly began to stop worrying about what I was going to say, and I started to actually listen to what other people were saying.
Out of all the relationship and career advice I have written about in the last year, taking the time to learn how to listen stands alone at the top. Just like how many writers attribute their success to what they read, along the same lines, the people with the most meaningful relationships attribute their success to what they hear.
No matter how strong your axe, it won’t do you any good if you are standing in front of the wrong tree.
Listening is the first key differentiator in properly identifying what connects you to others. The second key differentiator is doing something about it.
Connect with more people today by reshaping your “to-do” list:
The default setting for most people when thinking about their “to-do” list is to write down their goals for each day, and what they need to do to accomplish them.
However, those who also take the time to think about what is happening in the lives of the people they care about and then put pencil to paper seem to be doing alright for themselves.
Take the time to ask yourself the following questions:
Who could use some positive support to keep their momentum alive?
Who could use some positive support to dig out of a hole?
Who could benefit from something I just learned?
Who could benefit from someone I just met?
And then act.
Send the quick text wishing someone good luck on an exam.
Make the quick phone call to check up on someone whose parents have some health issues.
Pass on a book recommendation to someone that is facing a problem.
Connect two people who could benefit from an introduction.
No matter what Mr. Internet says about being productive and building relationships, nothing can compete with small and consistent acts of kindness.
Your only job is to leave every person better than you found them, and this becomes much easier if you follow the lead from my brother-in-law and get out of your own head and place yourself into the hearts of others.