Listening is a fine art. Many times, what is not being said is more important than what is being said. Hardcore negotiators who deal with kidnappers, blackmailers, and plane hijacker are specially trained in this art.
The title of this article is inspired by a Sherlock Holmes short story of 1892 called “Silver Blaze” and it’s about the disappearance of a famous racehorse the night before a race and the murder of the horse’s trainer. It was an important clue for the detective that led to identifying the criminal.
Very much like the “reading between the lines,” when we focus on a conversation, the most important thing is to listen between the words… breaks… and pauses.
Listening at the superficial level is the deceptive viewing of the visible part of the iceberg. Remember… it is not the whole iceberg. When we are attentive enough, we know that there is more to it than that strikes our eardrums. The Titanic sunk because it underestimated the size of the iceberg. Many deals collapse because of this hidden iceberg.
One of the skills that differentiate a good listener from a great one is the ability to pay close attention to what’s not said. It’s too easy to focus on what was actually said than on what could have been saying. It takes intensive intuitive training to do that.
Oscar Trimboli’s beautiful book called “Deep Listening” adds a new dimension to the understanding of this concept of listening for the unsaid. He explains that we can only express 125 words in the time it takes our brain to process 400 words. For everything we say, there is more than double that much again that we would have liked to say in that same amount of time!
As a speaker, have you ever regretted what you wanted to say came out all wrong? So, while we may not have thought of certain answers to a question, it could be even more likely that we thought of them, but we need additional time to express them. Our mouth needs to catch up to our mind. Here comes the role of a great listener who can identify this gap.
Rapid-fire questions asked in TV talk shows many times expose the first thought that comes to the mind of the guest without giving him much time to think a fabricate the answer and his defence system to percolate to the surface.
If I have understood Oscar’s book correctly, this communication gap goes beyond slow recall to encompass the slow expression of thoughts our brain has already conceived. Think of how much brilliance we miss hearing by moving on too quickly!
Perhaps this skill of deep listening — of recognizing that breaths and pauses are reflective of new content coming to life, not just a chance for us to jump in and fill the silence — is an example of wiser decisions coming faster through slowing down. It can be a game-changer in many cases.