(I love headlines like this. They so blatantly pander to my brain’s anxious, conditioned desire to get rich quick. Research, though, shows that most people get rich by first learning about, and then mindfully and methodically attending to money much as they might attend to a healthy diet or lifelong violin-practice).
“There’s a certain Buddhist calm that comes from having money in the bank.” ~ Tom Robbins
Shortly after I turned 40 years old, I found myself teaching an evening class in Deep Listening at UC Santa Cruz Extension. To my surprise and confusion, most of the 25 people who showed up for it were professionals who were already being paid big money for their listening skills: psychologists, lawyers, social workers and business managers. Not unsurprisingly, I initially felt a little intimidated. What could I possibly teach these people? When I got their feedback at the end of the class I learned that what made these people especially good at their jobs was that they knew it was important to continually hone their skills and to keep learning and improving – they weren’t too cool for school. They apparently also knew that … where skills and the brain are concerned, if you don’t use them, you lose them. It also worked to help me keep my own skills sharp. That’s how The Protégé Effect often works.
Taking My Ears to the Streets
Around this same time in my day job, I was looking for a new in-fill building project to take on in order to keep my own cash-flow flowing. To my surprise I found one in the next town over. Buying it stretched and stressed me to the hilt, since I had to max out my credit cards to buy it; and there was no guarantee it would turn out well (There was absolutely no way I could have ever predicted how well it would eventually turn out).
The property was a bank-owned foreclosure located in Atherton, California. Atherton (population: 7159) is a small town in the heart of Silicon Valley populated by many of the valley’s corporate stars and sports legends. The property I was looking to make my next project was 1.8 acres and the bank had been unable to unload it for over two years. Needless to say, I wondered why.
I signed a purchase contract and put down a small deposit (courtesy of Mastercard and Visa) to secure the property while I went and tried to find out. First on my list was a meeting with Atherton’s Town Manager. In addition to learning what he might know about this property – and he knew a lot! – I was genuinely curious about what it was like to try to manage a small town (and a town council) filled with so many super-sized egos. This proved a great opportunity to meet and ask him. And I listened to what he had to say (it turned out to be the hardest part of his job). And I kept listening. And I kept asking questions about him and his job, mostly because I was sincerely interested and glad his job wasn’t mine. After 45 minutes or so, I finally got around to asking my question, “Could I subdivide this property into two building lots?”
The Town Manager could have saved himself a lot of time and hassle and just said, “No. The town has a strict 1-acre zoning ordinance and they won’t set dangerous precedent by making exceptions.” But he didn’t. Instead he said, “Well, you might be able to. There’s a little known ordinance on the books that your property might qualify under.”
And what I later learned is that by listening to this manager with sincere interest and genuine curiosity, I’d apparently made a friend: behind the scenes with members of the Town Council and the City Planning Commission, the town manager built a powerful case for why my property DID qualify under that little known Town Ordinance. I was able to subdivide that single building lot into two and essentially obtain a million-dollar building lot for free!
Transfer of Training
I’m pretty convinced that my years working as a volunteer grief counselor – years of listening to people’s heart-felt pain and anguish over the loss of loved ones – had changed the nature of the “resonance circuitry” in my body and brain. When I was listening to the Atherton Town Manager talk of the struggles and challenges of working with the children of entitlement, I could authentically empathize. I could feel his discomfort in my own body as he spoke. And this mind-blowing research in emotional micro-photography makes me pretty sure he saw that I felt it; and felt that I felt it – all unconsciously. And he trusted it because there was nothing inauthentic or insincere in my responses. My guess is that Town Manager found himself being seen, heard and felt in much the same way that he would if he’d been having a conversation with a good friend. Later, he simply decided that he would do what he could to help a friend.
I’ve been a staunch advocate for skillful listening ever since. Along the way I have come to intimately know the many benefits of increasing skill.
What about you? Have you had positive experiences of listening to someone or of being deeply listened to yourself that profoundly impacted your life? Do tell in the comments section below.