February 14, 2016

A lot of hype is published and taught about listening.  Much of this hype's trajectory carries with it implicitly that a listener ought to park to one side all her critical faculties and then absorb verbatim, in so far as she is able to, what is being spoken to her.

The relationship implied is one of teacher to student, or else master to disciple. This implication is true even when one is a Software Developer, and one is being recommended by a guy like me, that listening to your clients is a cardinal virtue, in your walk of life.

Listening, done as it ought to be done, is not a passive absorption nor is it a prostrate obeisance of will and self to another. Listening is an active and complex item which employs one’s full collection of critical faculties.

Firstly, as for the type of guy or girl you are listening to, you need to listen hard to catch the signals being sent out. You need to process what you are hearing by filtering it through your experience and knowledge of how people tick in general.  In this way you are assessing a person’s character according to the lights you have and according to the values and the aims which you cherish.

'To the pure; all things are pure' (and vice versa)

In the field of Method acting there are prominent schools of theory which recognise that identical phrases spoken – say in a drama -  but yet it works exactly the same in day to day life – are able to mean very differently in many ways, and they can mean differently according to their contexts and circumstances, and in regard to who is speaking to whom.

An instance of what is meant here might help clear up this quite opaque-to-grasp idea?

The Welsh, amongst whom I dwell, use a saying, ‘tell me about it’.  The Welsh use the phrase often; but it is not often used by them as an invitation to a person to describe in detail what happened to her; or to tell a story. The Welsh use the phrase to mean ‘You DON’T have to tell ME! – I know all about THAT!’  It is the intonation of the voice which informs a listener that this is what is being said. The voice is deadpan and the words slip off the tongue easily.  There is no questioning in their delivery; it is a sardonic rhetorical device.

Now to apply this sense of words not meaning what they say to personal character, to what type of guy your prospective client might be.  By you listening carefully to what he or she is saying his or her assumed attitudes and predilections can often be opened to you. And these traits might be agreeable to you, or not so bad, or rather worse than either of these.

Here’s an actual and obvious example of a guy who met a friend of mine named Julian. All Julian’s acquaintance know him as ‘Jules’.  The guy was introduced to him as ‘Jules’ and the guy drew his body back and grinned hard crying: ‘Jules!’ incredulously in tones of gleeful mockery.

Of course none of the company other than this guy smiled or grinned. Julian said quietly;  ‘Yeah, Jules’. The guy had made an embarrassing social gaff. In doing so he had shot his bolt and had writ large his character and placed it on the table for people around him to see.

(In the English Middle Ages the name Julian was a name also given to women; but I doubt the guy knew this.  He might have had a residual acquaintance with an old radio show here in Britain, broadcast in an era when gay rights were unheard of, and starring a couple of gay showbiz guys using the stage names Julian and Sandy. Julian was called 'Jule' by 'Sand' in it.  In those days showbiz was an accepted route – like boxing was for blacks in those days too – where one could rise out of or escape social obscurity or exclusion.)

One cannot of course be a sensible adult conducting business when one is happy to ridicule clients' names. In a global community of business there are just so many wildcard names to be met with in the course of travel and trading, that to take exception and so forth to people’s names could become a perpetual and bankrupting occupation.

That was an obvious example I guess. Something more subtle and nuanced might be seen in these two examples next?

There was a radio show some years back titled ‘Does He Take Sugar?’ It was a programme in support of physically disabled people. The title of the show was catchy because so many persons who when they met a disabled person socially – maybe in their home or in a café – might ask an able-bodied companion of the disabled person this question, as it were, so that this able-bodied companion might speak on behalf his disabled friend. Of course, a physically disabled person is perfectly capable of agreeing to or refusing having sugar in a coffee or a tea.  The show’s title pointed up a commonplace misapprehension; being a signifier of a kind of person who makes such a prejudiced assumption.

The second example is commonplace too. Very frequently mistaken assumptions are made about the gender of a prospective client. This of course goes back in part to names. Names like Maria (German) and Andrea (Italian) are used for male naming but are nearly exclusively female names in Britain.  Names like Jo, and Robin, and Jerry, are used by both sexes here in UK.  There are names in non-European non-US parts of the world which are beyond the ordinary Westerner’s capability to discern self-evidently, from hearing or reading them, the gender of their holders.  Often the default assumption gravitates towards malehood.

But the most telling assumption about gender happens when a prospective client or a concomitant bidding developer does not use a personal name in a first exchange of correspondence or contact. Here, when an assumption of gender is made it usually opts for a male.  Males are the gender who do business; even today this is the default assumption. That developers are exclusively male is another. These assumptions are probably – I am guessing here – more of a problem in the UK than in the States?

There is no burning reason one should pick–up and rebuke people on their attitudes and assumptions who display such socially unaware behaviours.  Especially, at least, when you are in procedure of negotiating a job of work.  It is perhaps wiser to act like the gospel of Luke tells us of the story of Mary and the visitation to her of the shepherds at the manger in the stable:

‘The shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger. And when they saw it, they made known concerning the saying which was spoken to them about this child. And all that heard it wondered at the things which were spoken unto them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart.’