The Lost Art of Listening

The Lost Art of Listening

By Rick Gabrielsen, President, Kupuna Hospitality, LLC

The art of listening has boldly disappeared in our society, or at least that is my observation. Take a look at the television or listen to the radio. The dialogue is typically one way with the volume of speech accelerated to the point of banter thereby closing the listening senses. This begs the question, "Do you hear what I hear or do you just want to speak first?" Engage the sense of sound and you will uncover the many joys of listening… and learning.

In my previous articles, I wrote about "creating a thread of green between team members and guests", "the art of balancing profit, people and progress", and most recently, "creating our own leadership values". Each has addressed the cultures of balance, creativity, values and listening. One of our sacred possessions is to listen, and I am absolutely dumbfounded as to why the public, press and other communicative devices have lost the true art of listening. Listen is to learning what speaking is to selling. Everyone has a question, but we should take to heart the best question which is to listen first.

Take a moment and close your eyes. In fact, take the next two minutes. You quickly realize all you have during this time is to listen to your heart and breathe. You may have tried this exercise in a past seminar regarding stress, time management or other, but this short one hundred and twenty second self exploration will reveal the true feelings of listening. Do you recall the sound of a newborn's first breath or the pounding of a heartbeat? Or within yourself as you nervously prepare for a presentation or after a run at the park. Did you have to speak first to obtain a reaction or just by listening did you receive the message loud and clear? On the other hand, when being counseled by a friend or family member, were you able to interject your thoughts or did you just listen to their delivery? During a debate, do you listen first to obtain your strategy or is your initial reaction to respond abruptly? Have you asked another their perception of a conversation to see if they heard what you heard?

Recently, I received three calls from associates that were involved in an earlier discussion together and wanted my reaction to that conversation. Since I was not part of the original dialogue, I responded to each that I therefore could not reply. Each person when receiving data from another has many factors in place impacting how they listening. They may have been jubilant after successfully obtaining a client they pursued for months or the receiver may have received a last-minute project and is distracted by thoughts of timelines and resources. In each of these situations the individual did not recognize that they were not in a place to listen and engage the speaker in a dialogue. Unfortunately this happens way too frequently and often creates confusion, and in some cases, unnecessary conflict. Consider the valuable time saved if even one of the parties would ask politely for clarity or offer to repeat back what you heard said. We all receive information differently based on pre-determined filters and the environment of discussion, but when it is important to you it is important to them. STOP for a moment and remember the heartbeat, the breath- go to that place where listening is productive and personal.

Do you hear what I hear, is also misunderstood in the verbal or written word. As an example, if a note card was left on your desk that only says, "C/Me" how would you respond? Would it not depend on your frame of mind, how the day is going, the tasks to complete, or a previous conversation? Of course it would all influence your response, but the best question is to listen. Playing defense is listening to a conversation and determining a strategy, playing offense is to speak for others to determine that strategy.

Let's explore the listening senses the speaker sees. Are your arms crossed? Do you twitch and give away clues when you disagree? Do others know when you are agitated? Do you take the "Business bypass" when listening, thinking that you have heard it before and feel confident you can catch up with the speaker when the freeway of thought connects shortly? In each of these instances (be honest, we have all participated), but the goal of listening is to recognize our shortcomings and visualize a conversation as a shared canvas.

Are you currently listening to me ramble on about the lost art of listening or have you given up reading with the understanding that you will catch up? Well, we are about to enter the freeway of listening and you will not be ready to reply. See for discussion purposes, I am very hard of hearing and only speak with my fingers through this device we call a laptop. It is my conversation to others and I listen to your comments through the written word. And before you go, my eyes are tired and I do not read well, so I need others to narrate the words for me. How are my listening skills now? I do hear what you say and how you say it, just through a different lense. Perhaps it is how my interpreter pronounces the syllables or the smile or frown they place in each of the words. Or it could be through the structure of the conversation that I will form my own observation and decide an outcome. Either of the manners for which I receive the data, it is me who filters the information and formulates a reply. Do you listen differently now that you know a bit about me? Do you speak differently now from what you just learned?

We all know the best environment to stimulate listening is when it is important to you. Reading that first book to a child that is ready for nighttime stories clearly exemplifies the true essence of listening. Perhaps it is because the child does not yet have the vocabulary to speak, but take a look at their face and the enjoyment that exists in their listening abilities. Early childhood is where our listening skills should reside in the moment with the sound of words, speech and our clarity of pronunciation. As the child gets older and develops their verbal skills, often we find ourselves attempting to understand the first few words and savoring them forever. Don't you recall a child's first words and the keen listening skills you possessed in hearing those first spoken words? Have you spent the same amount of time and energy listening to your team members in business or with your family when they speak to you?

It is evident as we gain in the years of life, we all form our own opinions about various topics and are very eager to share our insights or experiences with others, BUT when you hold your opinions close and listen to a tapestry of discussions, the mind opens and allows an invigorating sense of learning to become broader on many plateaus of life. For instance awhile back I heard about a medical practitioner that was legally blind and received tremendous praise from his patients, because he asked only a few questions then sat back and listened to their responses. A question could have been, "What brings you in to see me today?" which would allow the patient to speak freely about how they feel or what aches they be having. It is amazing how a simple question by one person, provides a wealth of information to each other that can be shared and expounded upon. That is sincere listening, that stimulates thoughts of the conversation and most importantly a relationship of respect.

Listening to an opera tells a story. Reading a book tells a story. Watching a silent movie tells a story. Watching a sporting event unfold tells a story. Writing in a journal tells a story for future review. Do any of these situations need a speaker to tell us? Do you feel compelled to talk in the theatre? The best question is to stop and listen. Just recently the movie" The Artist" has received much praise for its script and characters and there is silence throughout the movie. The watching of a silent film creates the sense of listening and dreaming without others speaking. It is their actions that stimulate the listening with your eyes!

The past returns in all forms and thus we should all cherish in the thought provoking conversations of youth and wisdom, when the best question was to listen. As we go forward in this journey of hospitality today and tomorrow, be sure to live in the moment of balanced listening, for I am confident that your senses will be inspired and your relationships will become stronger.

Do you hear what I hear is not only a question but a foundation for respect and hospitality. May your days ahead be filled with "The lost art of listening" and your canvas in hospitality sincerely be heard!

Passionate involvement and infinite horizons are what defines Rick Gabrielsen — be it as an industry leader admired by his peers for a reputation of peak performance, a trusted advisor and loyal business partner, or a compassionate community volunteer. With 35 years experience in hospitality management for a variety of corporate, independent and bank owned hotels, he is one of the foremost experts in asset management and operations of boutique hotels and limited service properties. Prior to forming Kupuna Hospitality, Mr. Gabrielsen held the position of Area Vice President for Hilton Worldwide, managing company-owned and or managed brands of Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites and Embassy Suites hotels in the Mountain — West region and Mexico. Mr. Gabrielsen can be contacted at 303-376-6313 or