January 5, 2017
Empty vessels make the most noise.
Listening recently to a recorded debate between Roy Jenkins and Tony Benn – which dated from the 1970s – I was immediately struck by the articulate nature of these exchanges. The parries and ripostes of debate were eloquent, informed and above all, respectful. Never did the exchanges descend into aggression or insults. Each side took the time to listen to the other, and then to respond intelligently and in an informed and respectful way.
Compare this with the verbal volleys of the recent US elections. In a ‘twitterised’ era of sound bites and primetime TV debates the ‘Trumpian’ political language is deconstructed into dogmatic slogans for instant hits and mass appeal. ‘Build A Wall’ and ‘Make America Great’ – punchy slogans which demand to be heard in a sea of noise and which are a far cry from the eloquence of politicians past.
It seems that essential qualifications for high office are now an ability to shout the loudest and listen the least. Donald Trump’s election victory was based on overbearing monosyllablic rhetoric, aggressive posturing, and extreme slogans designed to catch the attention, and in the crucible of TV debates, it was the most populist sound bites which won the day; ‘she’s a liar’, ‘lock her up’ and ‘crooked Hilary’. No surprise therefore that away from the glare of the TV lights, these extreme promises are now being revised and toned down; the great Mexican edifice will be a fence (in places), Hilary Clinton will not be arrested, there may after all be ‘connectivity’ between mankind and climate change.
In this way, it is the didactic and emotional retort of the moment which seems to be prevailing over informed, considered and respectful debate. Moving from the language of politics to the language of business we see similarly destructive influences of the Trumpian modus – the ‘sell first – listen later’ approach. From Lord Sugar’s Apprentice boardroom through to the pushy and myriad email alerts, and social/business media self-promotions I receive daily – the language of business is increasingly deconstructed into aggressive, simplistic sound bites. I fear that the shouty and aggressive semantics of cornered contestants on the Apprentice – whilst once comical – are now being held up as qualities required to win in the real world.
Increasingly, we see this ‘TV’ pushiness in the business environment; bravado which lacks the qualities of humility and respect. The ability to listen, interpret, respond, empathise, and engage is often lost. I welcome phone calls these days where people will actually talk to me and engage with me. Ideally, they will listen to me and I will listen to them and we will construct our responses and conclusions accordingly.
Translating this fundamental ability to listen to, and engage with people to our business environment is critical. Why? Because by listening to people we understand the issues, we learn their needs and requirements, we identify what it is that we can do for them. By listening we also build the substance of our knowledge and expertise – this is how we learn and improve.
It is more important now than ever before to revert to informed, intelligent communication which is based on knowledge or expertise and which therefore has integrity. Everything we do or say in our business environment should exude these qualities; let’s celebrate eloquent and informed two-way discussions, and resist the deconstructed sloganism and hollow populism of TV debates and entertainment.
In the real world of business away from the political or TV glare – let’s talk, let’s have respect, let’s engage, and above all, let’s listen.