Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Tag: Listening

Captured By An Audience

You never really wanted to go out there. You’re outnumbered for one thing. You know that any false move in front of them will be the last and final one. You’re thinking that the light is too bright, your  voice will be too soft, your tread too heavy, your stance too awkward. You’re really scared to death, deep down. You don’t know why what starts you on those first steps out there. You shuffle tentatively at first. Then you’re puzzled as to why you then confidently stride forth. It’s as if you’re already a success. Like you’ve already been applauded and called back for more. And then you meet.

 

You’re all alone, just you and them. You never expected them to listen, even for a moment. You start as you always do. You focus on relaxing yourself. Or you’re trying to look relaxed. Or acting as if you already are. But now you don’t have time to be confused. You’re already speaking. And listening to your tone, your rhythm, your timbre and your breath.  For it’s as if to your great relief, at the very last moment, someone far more confident than you’ll ever be has stood in for you. And saved you. And for that you silently give great thanks.

 

But in all of that you kept on speaking. And you never think that ten seconds in, they’re looking you in the eye. And that after eleven seconds, you can look straight back at them. And that after thirty seconds in, they’ve stopped fidgeting, all of them. You watch extra carefully and realise you’ve never seen so many people sit so still for so long, ever. You start to become aware that perhaps these people may have started to listen to you. You’d never think that there could be such a thing as an inviting silence. And you’re in it,far too involved now to realise how rare and precious is the privilege they have extended to you. And you meditate upon that and think perhaps you really do have something far more to say than your trite rehearsals. And you keep on speaking amazed and astonished.

But you were waiting for the whisper, the voice too loud, just  enough that will silence you and your words forever. But it never speaks. It is struck silent by the silence.  It never speaks because there’s nothing for it to say. Yet you say it just the way you’ve said it before. And in the reality, it’s better than you’ve ever heard. You never think the pause for breath, which seemed in practice so short and now is an everlasting chasm of time, is perfect comic timing.  You make the joke that you’ve heard far too many times before. You know they’ve heard it for the first time. As now do you.

 

You find yourself unexpectedly relaxing and experiencing that joy of the endless moment. And you’re left wondering why you ever were afraid in the first place!

This Teleconference Has Been Postponed…

At last! Another opportunity to catch up on the backlog of outstanding work.

A teleconConference Call Phoneference! I dialed in, entered the meeting identification, my pin and spoke my name.

Then I placed my phone in hands-off mode and muted myself.

I knew I was safe because:

  1. I wouldn’t be asked to contribute
  2. I had very little to contribute
  3. I didn’t want to contribute
  4. I had a document to compose.

As people signed into the teleconference, I started to listen absently. As it continued, my attention wandered even more. Meanwhile people were dropping in and out. This meeting I thought was starting to resemble Tripp & Tyler’s  A Conference Call In Real Life.

But once the momentum resumed, I every so often stopped what I was doing and jot down a few notes. I thought to myself this was a very unfocused conversation indeed. Perhaps a facilitator or mediator might help. Besides nearly everyone else was on a higher level than me. And as I discounted that idea chaos struck.

My phone began to blare hold music. I looked carefully at the console. No. None of the lights were flashing. I still was on mute and still connected to the conference.

As the participants realised what had happened, a dull and boring meeting had become a hunt for a culprit. Much like school roll call, one by one we re announced ourselves over the continuing hold music. I took two attempts as I had unmuted and then muted myself.

One person failed to respond. He had received another phone call mid conference. And in answering that call  had placed the current call (us) on hold. He had to be contacted as soon as possible to continue the conference and save our sanity.

One of the participants suggested calling him. Which sounded contradictory until he added the words “on his mobile.” The meeting collectively held its breath (as best you can over Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries) and waited for the call to put through. No. He wasn’t answering his mobile either.

Which meant a physical intervention was required. Somebody must find this person and physically remove him from his phone. We waited a few minutes until this was organised.

“Are you near his desk? “Can you see him?” “Can you catch his attention?”

No to all questions.

“Can you go to his office and speak with him?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”

Once more we collectively held our breath (Ride of the Valkyries is a long piece of music) and waited.  Upon his return the hold music still continued. The culprit was in his office on the phone and couldn’t be disturbed (in another teleconference).

This teleconference will be postponed until a later date and time…

 

Waiting for The Sequel

A Not So Crowded TrainOn a not-so-crowded train. She is the only one standing. Back pressed against the only space that is neither seat nor door. Light brown curly but wiry hair, clear open face, same colour eyes (my best guess as far as I can see), all fully engrossed and engaged.

The bumps and lurches of the train don’t bother her. She just doesn’t lose balance. She sways slightly to the rhythm of the carriage. She is not dancing though. Perhaps inwardly.

Her head is bowed. As if in prayer or contemplation.  And her forehead is smooth. Her face serene. And I watch to see if she will raise her head. It’s not just to look at her face.  For I’m curious as to her quiet calm and innate peace. Now she is even more fully engrossed and engaged. With her hands held up in front of her.

Not a newspaper. Not a smart phone. Not a magazine. Not even one of those slate-sized flickering whispering mini TVs.

For a second, time stops and everything around her is removed. So much so that I stop and wonder and look again.  Yes, now I know what it is. It’s like she’s behind a lectern. She’s reading. A tattered dog-eared hardback with yellow threads fraying the red cover. No title that I can see. The Story

I wait to see if she’ll read what holds her so aloud.

For the last person that held out a book like that let me read it.

And I wanted to read it aloud : it was that good…a children’s book too…

Perhaps I’m waiting for the sequel.

Talent : The Gift is Borrowed.

Blue Pen on Paper

Blue Pen on Paper

Many years ago I wrote a speech called Through the Eyes of a Child. And a story called Medicine Woman.

In both cases the sensation was exactly the same. I’m sitting there, open-mouthed, literally watching the pen write the words in front of me.

It would be great if that happened all the time. But it doesn’t. I still can’t say (arrogantly), that it occurs because I’m talented. That it came from me. No…

I talked with one of my sons about talent. His observation was that others suddenly became envious once they found out you’re talented. The feeling for him was being treated as if you’ve stolen something. My rather strident response was tell them that it’s not theft at all. We did both agree that jealousy towards talented people is unwarranted and untrue.

If talent is not theft and talent does not come from me, then what is it? The shadows were cast away by a TED talk on creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Yes…being creative is like unwrapping a gift. The talent (if any) is can you unwrap that gift? To me, it’s like the poet Ruth Stone as described in Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk. The speech or blog or story or poem is told through me not from me. To tell it well, doesn’t require talent so much as listening (and Evernote).

 

 

A Lesson in Listening…

It was early December 2003. At that time I had separated, was couch-surfing at a mate’s place and was looking for accommodation. I had inspected a small place in South Brisbane earlier that week, applied and then was accepted, and now was on my way to sign the lease.

I chose the wrong platform. Then the wrong train. I then found the right train. I raced down the escalators to catch it. I reached the platform, saw the train and promptly dropped my wallet scattering coins. I looked across at the train, I looked down at the change and chose the train. By then I assumed I would be late. I phoned the real estate office to warn them. And as well it was raining.

Then I turned up on time! And the rain stopped. I easily found the real estate office. But the entrance wasn’t easily accessible. I circled around the back and found a gate. Looking over the gate, I saw it opened into an indoor-outdoor area. To the left of the gate there was a window/counter and the back office door. I let myself in and announced myself. I was asked to wait and did.

After about 10 minutes or so, there was a knock on the gate. I opened it. Standing before me was a young woman. My guess was that she was tallish  (5 feet 9 inches or 175 cm). She had blondish brown very wispy hair, quite the thinnest face and blue eyes. She reminded me somewhat of the actress Kate Hudson. But I didn’t say anything. She was wearing a white or off-white blouse and beige trousers. She had no earrings, no rings, just a watch and had a red Indy 500 strap around her neck. She wore little make-up and didn’t need even that.

We introduced ourselves. I said to her it seemed that you have missed the rain. I then leant through the window and mentioned that she had arrived. I asked her where she worked. She replied that she worked at one of the local radio stations. I immediately thought she might be one of the announcers. But I didn’t say that either.

We both sat down and waited for our appointments. My dynamic Scottish property manager appeared, filled out and processed the paperwork rapidly and then disappeared. In the meantime, my acquaintance’s New Zealand property manager appeared, processed the paperwork whilst having an animated conversation. I listened while I waited. In that time, I worked out that perhaps the other property manager was from Nelson in the South Island.

Finally I was called to the counter for my deposit. I paid my deposit and again had to wait. I started to get worried about time. I began to think of leaving when the New Zealand property manager asked me, “Did you get your receipt?” I replied that I hadn’t.

As I was waiting, my acquaintance attempted to put in her deposit. She searched through her purse for the extra money and came up short. She asked me if she could borrow 60 cents as she had given a tip.  It turned out she was 10 cents short. I gave her the remainder. That was all I had left in my wallet after the spillage. We laughed at that.

I was then asked where I was going. I replied back to work in Brisbane. I said I was taking the train back. Despite that she offered me a lift. I accepted. It would be quicker by car.

When she received her receipt, we left. She opened the door to her car for me. I got in.

And then began a remarkable conversation. It started in the usual way. She told me she was an account manager. She mentioned also that she had previously been in an advertising agency.  She asked me what I did for a living. I said that I was in Information Technology support and added that I preferred the people side of it.

Then something odd thing happened. I made a comment. It was something like “God willing” or “In faith.” Quick as a flash, she  asked me if I was religious. I replied, a little bit reluctantly, “Yes I believe.” I then added that I don’t force my beliefs on anyone. I concluded that people should find out for themselves. She happily left it at that.

We moved on to the next subject and the next. In a short drive from Clayfield to Brisbane, we covered quite a few subjects. I still wonder how so much was said in so little time.

In the end I was dropped off at work. We wished each other well and really that was that.

But I was puzzled. How did we cover so much in so little time? I turned the conversation over in my mind. After a while I remembered what she did when I spoke. As a good listener, she focussed on what I said. But as Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” That’s why she was a brilliant listener : she focussed and asked me what I didn’t say.

Yes that day I learnt a lesson in listening…

I Saw You Listen

I saw her walk past me. With a friend. They sat down opposite each other.

I chose not to notice. But out of the corner of my eye I could see her head bobbing and moving.

I glanced for a second. But she wasn’t talking.

But my intuition nudged me. There’s something more happening here. Watching

I glanced again.  And then I understood.

She’s listening. To everyone. To her friend in front of her. To the people across the aisle on the train. To the people passing through. She was awake and alive and alert to all occurring around her.

She alighted off  the train.  She and her friend walked in front of me.  A crowd of us were taking the bus from Caulfield to Darling.

She sat near me. Or I sat near her.

She listened to her friend show her phone photos. She listened to the two children on her left. She laughed while they played peep-bo while sticking out their tongues! She listened as the girl next to me gave up her seat before I had even thought of it.

She was awake and alive and alert to all occurring around her.

And the joy she gave me was watching someone really listen.

Wait for the Silent Moment (Talk To Me : The Art of Listening)

As a fan of Brainpickings, I was drawn to a wonderful article called How to Listen Between the Lines in which Maria Popova interweaves the art of listening with a review of Anna Deavere Smith’s book also called Talk to Me : Listening Between the Lines.

There was one line that leaped out of that web page at me. It was “the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear.“You know,“I thought to myself, “that occasionally happens to me.” But before I indulge myself in an exultant surge of self-congratulation let me share that it doesn’t happen often enough !

Yes I can start and sustain a conversation. I do follow my mother’s advice to me as a teenager. I allow the person to talk about themselves.  As I’m naturally curious I ask questions  (which really helps me professionally when I’m training or interviewing subject matter experts). The sequence of questions follows the active listening path of open questions, specific questions, reflected statements or closed questions. If I have shared experiences or can step into their shoes momentarily, the conversation can take a more personal course. I’ve learnt little by little that I don’t have to offer my advice or wisdom. I’ve learnt to be even more silent and learn from them. Occasionally I become a facilitative problem solver encouraging and occasionally suggesting solutions (which really helped when I was a desktop support person). But I still have more to learn. And the key is silence.

For if I wait for that silent moment something happens.  What happens resonates with Deavere Smith’s words, “We can learn a lot about a person in the very moment that language fails them.” From reading her book, I realised that I’ve had it happen to me. It happens when the subject touches strongly upon the heart of that person.  And in that moment there is a momentary revelation of that person. The real person. For me that revelation is their real story. Which is what Deavere Smith seeks as well as myself.

In time I downloaded the book and gradually worked my way through it. It is an oral history written in diary form which moves backwards and forwards from the early 50s and 60s when Deavere Smith encountered the discrimination rife in America at that time to through the 70s and 80s culminating in the Clinton scandals of the late 90s. There is much wisdom in this book. I’ve only scratched the surface.

 

A Learning Conversation

It was a long bus trip from the city to the suburbs. It was made worse by the conversation I couldn’t avoid.

Conversation

Conversation (Photo credit: CharlieCE)

 

The two girls sitting in front of me were going through a laundry list of possessions. Each one seemed to be trying to out do the other. It reminded me of Clarisse in Fahrenheit 451 saying that people only talked about things.

 

Even if they had moved to talking about others I would have been annoyed with that too! In Fahrenheit 451 people also talk about other people!

 

My bad mood that day aside, I thought later about that conversation when I was studying how adults learn. We first learn about things then other people and then ourselves. And we talk about things and other people and ourselves.

 

My point is we don’t learn from talking. Insight comes from listening to things, others, yourself and that world beyond. That put me in a better mood!

 

A Learning Conversation

It was a long bus trip from the city to the suburbs. It was made worse by the conversation I couldn’t avoid.

Conversation

Conversation (Photo credit: CharlieCE)

 

The two girls sitting in front of me were going through a laundry list of possessions. Each one seemed to be trying to out do the other. It reminded me of Clarisse in Fahrenheit 451 saying that people only talked about things.

 

Even if they had moved to talking about others I would have been annoyed with that too! In Fahrenheit 451 people also talk about other people!

 

My bad mood that day aside, I thought later about that conversation when I was studying how adults learn. We first learn about things then other people and then ourselves. And we talk about things and other people and ourselves.

 

My point is we don’t learn from talking. Insight comes from listening to things, others, yourself and that world beyond. That put me in a better mood!

 

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