Seeing through Silence and Inaction


Listen to what is said and what not said.
Observe what is done and what is not done.

While it is instructive to listen and observe what people say and do with intention, Freud’s gift was to sensitize us to what people say and do unintentionally.

Yet, the powerful Active Listener and Observer will also note what people leave out — in their words and deeds — without full intention.

One of the best exercises in freehand drawing is to draw the space AROUND an object.

What isn’t said and what isn’t done, without full intention or realization, often speaks volumes about a person’s motivations and values.

Careful not to use this make a snap judgement, unless time constraints demand it. More often than not, it’s simply a means to uncovering the rest of the picture — the contours of Still Life object in space — and it will provide a guide for what to continue to listen and watch for.

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About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on July 30, 2008, in Communication Skills, Learning, Life. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. i believe this is one of those skills that can only be learned with experience and not in theory. the ratio of false positives to true positives is too high to the untrained.

    what you see done and not done needs an extra step of interpretation. that interpretation can not be taught but learned thru experience.

    not every time someone is touching their nose is lying.. but rather one has to make the empathic effort and understand why is that person constantly touching their nose? crossing their hands? nervous? why nervous? does it fit in the general picture? not fit? why not?

    and i think this process works better as snap judgement rather than interpreted judgment. but it takes people who are constantly exposed to a large public to be good at it. that’s why policemen, lawyers, and used car salesmen excel.

    when making a snap judegment ur letting all ur senses participate in the process. in interpretive judgment, only ur consious brain is working.. and the consious brain is way too limited!

  2. Whoa there Cowb0i. Those are good points, but yer jumping a bit too fast onto the Malcolm Gladwell Blink thread, there. This is not so much about the whole reading-body-language-and-subconscious-queues stuff, but rather, and more simply, about paying attention to what a person DOESN’T say (or do). At all. Especially in situations where you expect they WOULD ordinarily say (or do) something.

    Keywords for learning this come from the previous sentence: Situations, Expect, Ordinarily.

    I know, it’s similar to the Blink analysis in terms of how some people use it, but it’s a VERY conscious process. You have to ask yourself: Why did that person forget/neglect to mention/do something? If you can figure out what was unintentionally left OUT of the picture (and maybe only initially, for example, until you raised the issue), then you can start to get an idea of a person’s inner motivators and values. Once identified, these suspected motivators and values can be easily tested for, and fully uncovered.

    I make it all sound more sinister than it is, of course.

  3. you also make it sound way more single-dimensional than it actually might be 🙂

    you say, “Especially in situations where you expect they WOULD ordinarily say (or do) something.”

    how do you expect to know what one would ordinarily say/do before starting to wonder what was unintentionally neglected?

    i guess i’m just having trouble accepting building elaborate mental constructs about people based on high error rate assumptions.

    i love the negative space analogy of drawing.. and what you say makes sense at a first glance.. but i wonder how valid/useful it is v/s dangerous…

    i also wish there were more people participating around here 🙂

  4. Narge, you’ve preemptively responded to something i was JUST about to post. but i’ll post it anyway:

    So apparently there ARE other regular readers of this blog, and some of them will even give me comments on my posts, albeit through voice or email. In fact, one such person has just given me a pretty good suggestion for a fully/semi/sub-conscious driver that may have gone into me writing this post about silence and inaction.

    That said, I’m pretty sure I know where this post came from, and to bring this back to the good ‘ol days when I was just posting things for myself as a mental scrapbook (as opposed to the current phase of this blog: The Book of Daniel and Nareg) (no offense, peace and love, bro), I thought it would be nice to record the following:

    [ENTER META-META-COMMENTARY MODE]

    I tried to write the post in a pithy, poetic sort of way, just for a change of pace.

    e.g.

    Listen to what is said and what not said.
    Observe what is done and what is not done.

    What isn’t said and what isn’t done, without full intention or realization, often speaks volumes about a person’s motivations and values.

    I realized that employing a “Our Sages / Confucius Say / Quothe Teh R4ven” voice would make the idea less clear to the reader, harder to understand, open to too many interpretations, etc. but on the other hand, if I explained the idea fully and accurately, it might become totally prosaic and lose it’s punch. So, I’ll just go ahead and do that now, m’kay?

    The idea for this post came to me just the other day, as I was walking down 41st St. in Manhattan, between 5th and Madison, glancing at the bronze “Library Walk” plaques embedded in the sidewalk. One of them made me stop in my tracks (and it has the image of bird tracks in it): A stanza from Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird:”:


    I do not know which to prefer,
    The beauty of inflections
    Or the beauty of innuendoes,
    The blackbird whistling
    Or just after.

    (Stevens gets bold text, I don’t)

    A few minutes later, I was sitting with a prospective client, conducting a diagnostic interview with them, regarding their business and workplace. Without getting too specific in this scrapbook-that-is-public, let’s just say I was fascinated by what elements they elaborated on, but more importantly, what kinds of things they totally brushed over — without trace of conscious avoidance. To preserve client-consultant privacy and privilege, let me make an analogy:

    Imagine you had 4 kids: A, B, C and D and someone asked you to talk all about them, and you did — for hours. Even though the opportunity to elaborate on kid C kept coming up in the conversation, you never seemed to take that opportunity, even as you talked about B and D at considerable length, and spent an extensive amount of time on A. All of this was happening without you realizing it — you were unintentionally not saying things that I would have expected to hear about. At this point, even without any kind of body language, tone, inflection, Freudian slips or whatever, just by the absence of C (to say nothing of the over-representation of A), I would have a pretty good indication about the kinds of things that you valued / motivated you.

    See, now I’ve used an oversimplified example and it’s been dragged down to the level of the obvious.

    Dammit.

    Ok, maybe I can save this idea:

    There are things that are said — listen carefully.
    For everything that is said, there is another side that is not being said — listen for that too.
    Sometimes, there are also things that are not said — or cannot be said — listen for that especially, and try to understand why
    .

  5. re: dragging down to the level of obvious
    you’re right. 🙂

    but unless one achieves some form of enlightenment or international stature (close enough!), one will not express ideas in “zardoz speaks to you” poetry form.

    i understand the point you make, and it makes sense in the context of talking about children. however, when it comes to things slightly more complex than love towards our children, i wonder if the error-rate of such assumptions rises to unacceptable levels.

    A corollary to this, btw, is to look at our assumptions of what was not said, in an attempt to better understand our own motivators. (in this case, we assume all children should be talked about equally.. thus making us realize we love our children equally.. pretty silly in this example.. but i wonder if the introversion error-rate goes down as the situation becomes more and more complex…)

    [patient on chair… back later.. maybe]

  6. This comments thread is becoming too long and the example of the kids is ridiculous. Sorry I brought it up. Look, it all boils down to this: If you wish to understand, shut the hell up, watch and listen very carefully and consciously, and don’t take any of your own assumptions for granted.


    Listen to what is said and what not said.
    Observe what is done and what is not done.

  7. comments thread too long
    nareg being difficult.
    not enough haiku.

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