Wednesday Dec 10, 2008

I Can't Hear You



My husband and I have season tickets to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I go only because I try to be a good wife. Knowing that this may flag me as the philistine so many suspect I am, I reluctantly admit that I'm happier listening to good music from the comfort of my family room, dog by my side, needlepoint in lap, glass of wine within reach. My husband, whose mother is a musician and who plays a mean piano himself, is frankly appalled by this. He experiences live music very differently than I do. Picture us at a typical performance.... Scott is leaning forward In his seat, listening to every note, wincing at a half-note miss, glowing with a perfectly played passage. I sit at his side, trying hard not to be obviously restless or drowsy. I glance at my watch to see how much longer while he listens entranced. When the performance ends, I'm saying, “OK, let's go!” while he's enthusiastically showing his appreciation.

I guess opposites do attract. When they don't kill each other.

So I was struck this morning by an interview with pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim discussing his new book, Music Quickens Time , when he talked about the difference between hearing and listening. Background music is our enemy, he says (OK, I'm paraphrasing) because it allows our ear to get lazy and to listen but not really hear. Hearing, says Barenboim, takes as much work on the part of the audience as it does on the part of the performer, for hearing is “listening with thought.” Isn't that an interesting perspective? Although it sadly shows me to be not only a philistine but lazy and unthoughtful to boot.

Now here's another lens. Read this quote from the Harvard Magazine interview with the maestro and think about its implications for communication:

The audience, too, has obligations: to listen with informed attention, to exercise what Barenboim called “the moral responsibility of the ear.’’ He drew a distinction between hearing and listening: we can’t help listening because we don’t have earlids, but “hearing is listening with thought.’’ “The audience needs to concentrate as much, as exclusively and fully, on the music as the performer does.”

How much hearing is going on in your company today? Or in mine? Are executives communicating with the passion and the urgency that the best musicians bring to their art? Are employees really hearing what's being said? Oh, and by the way - are executives really hearing what employees are saying? And if the answer is not what you want, whose fault is it?

Look, communicating bad news, unpopular policies, or complex strategies is not fun nor is it easy. You have to have intestinal fortitude to do it. And you have to be prepared to do it over and over and over and over. Not because you weren't listened to the first time. But maybe because you weren't heard. Say it again, Sam, but this time with feeling.

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terrymckenzie

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