Listening is the quantifiable measure of emotional intelligence. Good listeners stay with you forever.
I remember working as an intern with an artist named Jonathan. I did menial jobs around his studio, and did so happily.
What strikes me most of all as I think back on that time I was sweeping floors and organising files was how comfortable and happy I felt in Jonathan’s presence.
He was mild and thoughtful; a little slow to answer any questions, but he had a disarming ability to make you confident to share.
Jonathan liked me to tell him stories as he worked. He wasn’t so much keen on facts or ideas, he wanted to know what made me tick.
He wanted to know about me and my background, what made me what I was at that time. As I spoke he asked me questions that zoomed into and unpacked particular pinch points in my stories. “That’s interesting,” he’d say as a lead up to a question, making me bloom a little more.
Those questions and their answers gave both of us a better understanding of the emotional shades to my decisions and actions, and my feelings about them at the time I was talking. Even details I thought were trivial were rinsed in importance by his sporadic and mildly asserted questions.
What was a cathartic process for me was a learning experience for him. I may have been a naive young man fifteen years his junior, but we all have something to teach, and that’s a feeling he left me with.
In all that time I was talking he was also thinking about his own life decisions; the ones he had made, and those he had yet to make.
Listening is an act of kindness, it’s also a chance to learn.
We live in a golden age of information. A palm-sized device with an internet connection packs a library of knowledge that could fill the Empire State Building many times over.
But it’s important to remind ourselves that there is a qualitative as well as quantitative dimension to information.
An article on a webpage is just a string of letters and numbers arranged into words…