I work as an IT consultant and consider myself to be a guest at many of the corporations that specialize in the oil and gas and energy sectors throughout the U.S. I use the word guest, because I am invited into their organization for the consultancy process in which I share my knowledge and expertise in an attempt to help solve problems, create efficiency, reduce overhead and bring order to an otherwise potentially chaotic environment that IT management can be. There are many requirements that come along with the responsibility of being a consultant. I have to be knowledgeable and confident in my knowledge. The first part is easy, the second part, not so much. When I recommend an action item, or if I’m queried on an aspect of technology, the sum of my answer is derived from experience, memory, and certainty. There’s a level of trust that must exist if a person’s recommendation and advice is taken at face value.
For example, I recently found myself visiting a new client. As we were grabbing our seats for a meeting, I hear someone say:
“I read that we do not have to use BITS (Background Intelligent Transfer Service) with our clients, is this correct?”
We call these loaded questions. I knew without even looking up that this question was directed towards me and apparently, there’s a motive behind this question as the person asking seems to have already formed an opinion by admitting that HE had “READ” something on the subject. Was this question to test my knowledge? To see if my body language indicates a snickering review of this person’s ineptitude? A kind of litmus test to see if I had a reason to be amongst the leaders of this company?
After being in this business for as long as I have, I always listen to the question I’m being asked instead of listening in my own mind for the proposed right answer. To read, or, listen between the lines if you will.
I looked in the direction of the voiced inquiry. I immediately notice that no one else’s attention was demanded. Other people in the meeting seem to operate as if this gentleman’s chair is not occupied. When I make eye contact, I noticed raised brows, tapping fingers. This young man was determined to be noticed. His question tactfully baited with queued rebuttals for either a yes or no response. I’ve been there. I’ve been the young guy in the room before. The one eager to please, and hungry for praise. I knew within an instant once our eyes met that not only did he neither care about the outcome of the question asked, but his motives for asking the question were not even in alignment with our purpose for being there.
I responded. “I’ve read that too. What was your take on it?”
It was as if I had broken protocol. Everyone looked at the young man sitting across from me. His face lit up with delight as he began a technical explanation of how this technology worked and why it existed. He had the attention of the whole room. His peers were listening to him. He had the spotlight and judging by his hand gestures and his positioning, he was very confident in his understanding of the subject.
As he continued his energetic performance of relaying his digested and assimilated understanding of how this specific technology worked and why it was important to use, it became clear that I effortlessly disarmed my first adversary. He became so enthralled in his opportunity to win over his own peers by externalize a portion of his knowledge, that his defensive stance faded away. He unfolded his arms and placed his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair. A smile of self-satisfaction replaced his smug untrusting tight lip smirk.
I smiled back and said “That’s probably the most accurate BITS explanation I’ve ever heard.”
Now, his question of whether or not to use it was overshadowed by his small victory. His desire to be ‘right’ was fulfilled and the question never truly got an answer. I find it to be all-important to actually listen to people when they speak. To not just hear their words, but to hear their voice. To listen to what is being said, the silence between the words, the inflection and tone in their voice. To hear more than what is being said, to truly communicate with the person in front of you.
Another client who I must work with for extended periods of time hosts a diverse group of engineers who I have grown to cherish dearly. One day, a man who I’ve always been cordial with asked me, “How do your shirts always look fresh pressed?” When you come into the office in the morning, they look like you just got them off the hanger. No matter how much starch the cleaners use or even if I starch and iron them myself, mine always wrinkle. It must be the cleaners you go to. Who do you use?”
I told him, “I’ll share a secret with you.” Jokingly I leaned in as if it were a confidential piece of knowledge forbidden to speak of.
I said “I wear just my under-shirt on the commute in, then I put one my button-down once I park in the parking garage.” He smiled, gave a nod of approval and had a distant look in his eye as if he considered this solution to be the answer to his problem.
The next day, I joined a meeting and bumped into my wrinkled shirt friend in the conference room where we were all gathering. He smiled and patted me on the back and said “I can’t believe it, your solution does work”
Garnering the curiosity of a few other people in the room, he turns to them and says. “He puts his shirt on AFTER he gets to work so that it doesn’t get wrinkled during his commute. I gave it a try, and it works!”
In this moment, I was reminded why it’s best to listen to people. To completely understand as much as you can in the moment in which your two realities collide. So many facets of an existence and a superficial method of communication always leaves two people parting ways with receiving only a small portion of one’s truth. In this moment, I could see how easily a person can assume so much about another. To haphazardly fill in the blanks of an incomplete understanding with biased information based on perception. I guess in my own analytics I cast a doubting look during the moment. I remembered our conversation the day before and my friend never asked me about my morning shirt ritual. In the context of the conversation, he presumed it to be relevant to his own situation.
He looked in my direction, I nodded “Yep.”
I never cared whether or not my shirts were slightly wrinkled from a long commute. It’s the reality of it. Most people don’t seem to care or mind. We look past a lot of these little things.
I’m not that adamant about my appearance. I try to look the part and I dress as I’m expected to, but my reality is that I just can’t drink my morning coffee without getting some on my shirt. I have a long drive, I get up early and I have a big mug of coffee that I enjoy on the way into work. This was my reality. Drips of coffee. Not wrinkles.
As yoga teachers, we often encourage ourselves and others to take what we learn off the mat and introduce it into the world, but this process also works in reverse, as you begin to apply yogic principles and philosophies into your daily life as you interact with others, you’re still learning. You’re just changing the frame. What you learn in the context of yoga, even with a non-yoga undertone, is still valuable as a practitioner.
When I’m in front of my students, I try not to assume too much. I don’t assume I can understand them. I don’t assume that I know what they are going through or where they have come from. When I see the facial expressions, I no longer assume what they are feeling or judging about the present moment. This is not why they show up on their mat. They don’t pay their monthly fee for me to assume anything about their personality, their life, or their yoga experience. And when I communicate to a class of yoga people, I’m aware of my words, the silence between them, the tone of my voice, the gesture of my hands, the expression on my face. It is effort. There is work in awareness of myself in the frame of speaking and guiding. There is work in developing, testing and reviewing improvement of my word choices, voice and mannerisms in that frame. It doesn’t come easy. It takes effort to truly communicate. To hear between the words and read between the lines. But when you take the time to communicate fully and completely embody your interactions with others, you’re communicating in the context of truthfulness. Or as close to truth as you can. Sometimes it’s the only opportunity you will get. Make it count.