(My TEDx video at the bottom of the post)
“Brandon… slow down!”
I get these two comments often because of my special abilities.
Whenever I go out for dinner with my friends, they would forewarn me to eat in half of my usual speed because I will vacuum up my food. On top, they also tell me to quiet and eat!
Yes, I eat too fast and I talk too much.
When TEDxUUM asked me to share the secret to great communication, I thought, “Oh yeah? You want ME, a guy who talk too much to talk about talking and keep it under 18 minutes?”
I can eat anything under 18 minutes, but not for talking because I like to talk about talking.
You and I, the younger generation, tends to celebrate speaking up as a sign of intelligence and strength. When we see someone who speaks up eloquently, we subconsciously think he or she must be smart and good, right?
Well, speaking up is good until you over do it.
My friend is doing her part-time MBA with one of the most prestigious business school in the world. Interestingly, her class attributes 25% of her credit to “classroom involvement”, in essence, for speaking up.
She oftentimes tells me the story about one of her classmates, Albert. While my friend always said, “I just want to get my homework done”, Albert is THE champion. He is always the first one who raises his hand because he has an opinion and the last one who puts it down because he has run out of things to say.
Sometimes, he repeats the same point in 3 different ways for 5 different times. Obviously, he usually ends up confusing himself and the hell out of everyone else. But, Albert probably took home full 25 marks on “speaking up”.
Albert has very high “share of noise” in the class. Show me a raise of hand if you know a friend, family, colleagues like Albert?
That was me too. I talked a lot. My mantra was to “talk first and think later”. Making noise was my way of life. I use it to mark my attendance and to let people know that “I am here”. I wanted to be noticed.
But, noise is not voice.
I can not communicate with each other if the only thing I hear is my own voice. So, like what my friends do, they filter me and hush me “Shhh”.
About 10 years ago, my already not-so-good communication with an important person broke down.
I was young and hot-blooded. I thought I was always right and he was always wrong. There were many things that we didn’t see eye to eye; from how fast I should drive, when I should come home, to which political party to support. etc etc.
I became emotional, angry, and frustrated.
Every time we try to communicate, It was as if going into a war zone. I would have formed a defensive answer in my mind ready to fire back before I heard what he had to say. I speak to him because I wanted to prove him wrong. I heard him but I never listened.
We talked but we did not communicate.
The entire process was emotionally draining. So one day, I decided to stop.
For the next few years, our conversation became mechanical.
How are you? I am OK
Have you eaten? Yes
Weirdly, he never missed slipping pocket money into my wallet and fill up the fuel on my car. He would still call to make sure I come home before the curfew.
Yes, this person was my father.
Eventually, I got less hotheaded and ready to talk again. But I felt awkward to the extent that I did not know where to restart anymore. So, I let it be and the silence continued.
One day, I got an offer from P&G for a job in Bangkok. With a one-way ticket in my hand, I was going to leave home to start a new journey.
In the airport, my mom pulled me aside. She said, “I might not be the smartest and most capable mom in the world, but I try my best.” My mom has always been a great listener and that was all that an angry son like me needed.
Then, unexpectedly, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, “So is your father. He is trying hard too. You just have to listen. You know, give him a chance. He just doesn’t know how to talk to you because you seem to shy away from him. Try to listen to him. He loves you and you know that.”
My phone buzzed before the plane took off. It was a text message from my dad.
“I love you. Remember to come back often.”
I wondered, “How much courage did he muster to send the simple message?” Only God knew. I was ashamed.
As a son, I should be the one who says I love him first; I should be the one who reaches out to communicate; I should be the one who listens first. Why didn’t I listen?
This life experience taught me an important lesson about communication. You see, communication is more than your share of noise, the language you speak, or your body language. The fundamental of communication is something simpler yet difficult.
Can you listen?
Do you listen?
You connect two souls when you listen.
Make no mistake. Listening is tough.
That’s why God gave us two ears and one mouth. One ear to hear to what people say; the other one to listen to what they really say Very often, when you truly listen, you uncover the real story.
Today, I am a part-time life coach. Oh, my! It is a misunderstood profession. Many people thought my job is to talk and give brilliant advice; Oh no! they are so wrong. As a coach, my job is to shut up and listen.
“Brandon, Sometimes I feel like I am not being myself. I constantly want to make people around like me. Should I continue with it?” I get questions like this rather often.
If you listen with both of your ears, the story she wanted to tell me was not in her spoken words.
“Do you like the person you have become in the process of pleasing the peoples around you?” I asked. One of the ways to truly listen is to get clarity by asking questions.
“Then why do you do it?” I asked.
she said after a long pause, “Because I am afraid of being alone”
The story she wanted to tell me was, “Brandon, I am scared because I think I am not good enough.”
What she needed at that time was not a reply. She knew her answer anyway. So, I gave her a hug.
Sometimes, silence is the best communication.
We can divide the world into many types of listeners. Here are the three interesting ones.
We listen like a debater…to reply
We listen like a jury…to judge
We listen like a curious kid... to understand and explore
When I was a little boy, my dad bought me to the zoo for the first time.
I was so excited because I finally get to see the animals I wanted to see, like the tiger, giraffe, and the monkey. I ran around the zoo, holding my dad’s hand and I asked so many questions.
“Papa, why is the lion yawning?” I asked.
“Mr. Lion is tired. He slept late last night just like you,” My dad said patiently.
Then, I went on and asked many other questions about the other animals. My father answered all of them patiently. I listened carefully, then I asked questions again. We went on. The communication between us was smooth.
Lastly, how does it matter to you?
The world is noisy. We have too many debaters, jury, and too little curious kids. That’s why we have conflicts that can be easily prevented if only we have listened.
My friends, one day, the world will belong to you.
You will graduate, leave the campus, and do amazing things. You will become someone’s manager, boss, lover, partner, and eventually a parent. Some of you will even build a castle in the air.
You owe this ever noisy world a simple favor…
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