The Present of Presence & Listening

Yesterday our excellent homilist ended with a story I had read on the Internet several times, yet it hit me differently due to the recent loss of my Dad. An old man had recently lost his wife, and was so heartbroken that he just couldn’t do anything. A neighbor’s little girl saw how sad he was, just sitting on the porch staring out into space, and ran to him and sat in his lap. The old man was delighted and told the little girl’s family that she had brought him back the will to live. They asked: “What did she say?” And he replied, “Nothing. She just sat on my lap.”

This story reminded me of the hours I had spent with my Dad in those last weeks, quietly sitting with him, particularly late at night when he couldn’t sleep even though he wanted to. Sleep deprivation particularly haunted him in the hospital with all the disturbances, noises and lights. I like to think he just didn’t want me to go home. After he came home I continued to sit with him when it was my turn, quietly watching TV, and sometimes while he slept during the day or the night. I stayed up with him the last night he was on planet earth, and I think Dad took great comfort that I was there with him, quietly sitting close by and periodically touching him.

I think this phenomenon of being quiet is also very valuable in business as part of cooperative communication, one of the arms of cooperative intelligence. Sometimes, people just need us to listen to them, and not offer any advice. It is a difficult thing to do: to just listen and listen and perhaps at the end of their ranting just wish them good luck. Often just allowing the other person to talk and talk allows them to release some steam, but also can be used more constructively. If you stay quiet, the other person may share some great ideas to improve your business practices and unleash their creativity. This practice also builds incredible trust and connection between two people since you think enough of the other person to stay quiet and listen.

In my fields of research and competitive intelligence, knowing when to be silent is a great gift, since there aren’t enough listening ears, especially these days with all the downsizing in America. When I call people, even cold calls, I will initiate the conversation, but then I will be silent and give the other person a chance to share what they know. Many of them are so grateful that someone cares enough to ask their opinion, even a total stranger, that a number of them have invited me to call them back any time. I have made them feel good about themselves and warmed up their life just a little bit by asking and caring.

It takes time, life experience and a certain amount of intuition to know when it’s right to just sit back, be quiet and listen. I am still learning and wonder what your experience has been with being quiet and listening.

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