Listening 101, 201, 301 and...
A Conversation with Carol McCall, Founder of the Institute for Global Listening and Communication

By John Milton Fogg

Carol McCall

Carol McCall has more than 40 years of experience as an educator, therapist, business executive and entrepreneur. Through her public workshops, corporate clients and performance coaching practice, she has had an impact on the lives of more than two million people.

Carol is the founder of the Institute for Global Listening and Communication. She is the creator of the "Empowerment of Listening" and "Possibility of Woman" courses. Carol was a contributing essayist in the book Leadership in a New Era, is the author of Listen! There's a World Waiting To Be Heard, and The Empowerment of Listening tape series, and has been featured in several print articles and television segments, including The Iyanla Show, CNBC-Asia, Success, Essence, Network Marketing Lifestyles, and Upline.

Carol has had a profound impact on the networking profession. Her students include Richard Brooke, Teresa Romain and John Milton Fogg among many others. --JMF

What does the word "communication" mean to you, Carol?

I like the Latin derivation: "commune," which is related to "union." Communication means you and I becoming one together through language; we become "in union." That's why it's so important to listen first, so that you're clear where to make the connection--where we can unite, so to speak.

I love the expression, "so to speak," by the way, because it is in the speaking, and the listening to the speaking, that you make the connection.

 

You use the word "connection"; I can connect by saying, "Hi, Carol, how are you?" You answer, and we're connected--yes?

No.

 

Okay, let's start there. What do you mean by "connection"? How do we connect? And how do we know when we've connected?

There is a presence that occurs when people truly communicate. It's as though I have sent you a package of energy. I have given you this wonderful present all wrapped up with a bow, and by the way you receive it, I can tell whether or not you have truly received it.

Some people take a gift haphazardly or absentmindedly, and they're off to do something else. They don't really receive or acknowledge the gift; they are not fully present to that interchange. You gave me something; I fully received it; I recognized that I received it; and I acknowledged that I received it. That's communication.

A lot of people go around saying, "Hi, Carol," and they're not even home. They might just as well have hiccupped; it's just a reaction, there's no presence to it. How I know we have connected is that there is a response, not simply a reaction.

You can do this in one second, with anybody and everybody you meet. It takes just one second to be present with someone, for your "Hi" to really become a, "Hi, I've met you." That's where the expression "hello" comes from: "Hail fellow, well met."

 

What's the payoff for doing that, Carol?

There is a fulfillment that happens when you fully acknowledge others. People tell me, "I don't want to go around having everybody pay attention to me"--and that's a lie! We survive by having people pay attention, which simply means giving us energy. We don't have to wallow in it; we don't have to be lifelong friends or get married. But attention? You bet--we thrive on that. A one-second attention from another human being boosts our vitality. Why do you think we look for partners? Why are we in relationships? Because we're looking for attention.

 

What does life and work look like with that shift?

Joy. It's less stressful. A lot of healing takes place.

A lot of people give off negative energy, energy that doesn't nourish. But energy is energy; it has everything to do with what you do with it. You know the expression, "If somebody gives you lemons, make lemonade." Sounds trite and contrived, but there's real truth to that.

So someone gives you negative energy; do you have to give it back? No, you have the ability to convert it. You simply say, "Well, that's the best they can do today." You've had an energy exchange; you just didn't take on the negativity of it. The more you look for the positive energy, the more you're going to get it. You'll get fewer and fewer exchanges of negative energy, because you're unwilling to return it.

I do a lot of flying, so I have a lot of opportunity to exchange energy with people at airports. If I walk up to the ticket counter with this
negative attitude going--"Hey, I'm next, why don't you hurry up?"--then that's the attitude I get back. But if the agent has negative energy and I greet that with a positive, up attitude--"Good morning! How are you?"--I see them look up and completely shift, right in front of my eyes.

 

You tell a great story about sitting on the plane while the flight attendant goes through safety demonstration routine (which he's done a gazillion times) and nobody is watching--and you look at him with rapt attention, soaking in every word. Throughout the flight, he singles you out for extra service.

Exactly. [laughter] It works every time! And it's not like I'm doing something special; it's just that I'm there, paying attention, present to what they do. They're talking; nobody's paying attention. I am.

If I behave this way, my life will be richer, fuller, and more joyful, and so will the lives of the people I meet. How many times throughout the day do people meet other people who don't give them any exchange at all? If our energy exchange is the one bright spot in the person's day, the communication will be reciprocal. That person's life has been enhanced for that one moment, and so has mine. Imagine multiplying that throughout the day!

 

Can you place this in the context of doing business?

When your commitment is to have a vital, healthy energy exchange with other people, you become the light to which moths are attracted. That kind of energy doesn't just feel good, it's literally health-benefiting--and people want to be around something that builds their health.

In business, this creates a logical progression: people want to be around you and do business with you, which means they're going to bring other people to do business with you, which means your business is going to expand, which means you're going to be successful in business ... and the beat goes on. It's exponential.

We're all in this together; we're all one; we are all in "communion." We are a community; we are in communication. There are a lot of leaders who avoid communication, but the really successful leaders I know are always in communication with the people in their organizations.

 

Carol McCall Carol, doesn't this expose us to a kind of a vulnerability in which we can get taken advantage of in business?

It's when you are unwilling to be vulnerable that you get hurt. When you're vulnerable, you see it coming. You see, you can't protect yourself from vulnerability, from being wide open. If you protect yourself from it, you get blindsided: you're so busy protecting yourself "from," you can't see it coming.

People confuse vulnerability with weakness, but they're absolutely not the same thing. Being truly vulnerable means you're present, you're open to what's coming, which means you see it coming, and that gives you the opportunity to prepare to get out of the way, if it isn't going to serve you.

 

Carol, you speak about listening as if it were the key in this connection of communication. I think most people think that speaking is the key.

Absolutely, we're sold that from the very beginning. You know, "Speak well, speak your mind, speak up."

What people miss is the fact that you never spoke when you were an embryo. You listened: you learned your environment through listening. Even after you were born, you didn't speak when you were a little kid. You listened--and learned to speak through listening.

Dogs don't talk, yet we manage to figure out when it's time to take them out or to feed them, when they're thirsty, when they want to romp and play--and we figure all that out through listening to them. They don't say a word, yet we listen.

Listening is the fulcrum, the core of all true communication. That's what my life's work is about.

I think people talk too much. They drown out the real communication, which comes through listening. When you start listening, you really do hear people's communication.

 

Carol, give us some pointers or directions in this kind of listening; it's obviously not what we've been taught. There was no "Listening 101" in school.

My two favorite tools for listening are silence and brevity.

The longer you are silent in someone's speaking, the more you begin to listen to what they're saying--not trying to figure out what they're saying or make up what they're saying, just listening to what they're saying, period.

I know that sounds obvious, but it isn't obvious, because what people have been doing is hearing the noise of the words and then making up what the words mean. That's not listening; that's hearing. I'm not asking you to hear; I'm asking you to listen.

Listening means you're not making up what the person means.

In listening, you don't have to do anything with it. The person communicated. That's what it means. Why do we have to have it mean something else? That's listening: we get what the other person means by her communication, not what we're making up about it. "It should mean, it ought to mean, it doesn't mean ..."--that's hearing. Being silent allows you to listen without any of your barriers or definitions.

 

I've heard you mention something else, which is, "Listening to the music behind the words." What about that?

When I'm listening to the music behind the words--and I happen to like that phrase--I'm a lot more interactive with the speaker. I ask, "What do the notes mean?" so that I don't make up what she means. I ask what the notes mean so that I'm clear that I am in the "melody" as the "composer" intended it. Because I'm not writing the music; she is.

For me to go in and assume I know what the notes mean would be hearing. So I will ask, "What does that mean?," not in an accusatory way, but very gently, like an innocent kid: "What does that mean?"

And the speaker will tell me, because I'm not being intrusive; I'm in communion with her. I want to find out what the next note is and what that note means to her, not to change the note, but simply to know what it means so I can
stay in tune. It's a glorious exchange when you're like that.

 

When I first began to learn about "listening," I thought that interruption was the death knell of the connection. Yet I when I'm really listening, I interrupt frequently, because I want to know, "What did that mean? Tell me more about that."

Exactly, that continues the melody. It's like a musical composition that we create together; it's a dance.

 

Tell me about "brevity."

Brevity is my favorite word.

You and I are talking, and as you interject into the music behind the words, you don't go off on your story about it; you simply ask, "What does that mean?" "Say more"--brevity. "How did that happen?"--brevity.

It's the briefness of it that continues the flow. It is an interaction, rather than an intrusion; a partnering, a cooperation, rather than a dismissal or disruption. It empowers. You don't get off on your own thing; you are engaged. Brevity then becomes a powerful tool for moving forward the composition the speaker is designing.

People who are not brief will say, "Oh, tell me more about that, because I remember when I did such-and-such ...." Hey! It's not your turn, it's the other person's turn! That's not brevity. "Tell me more about that." That's brevity.

 

Part of the key to this seems to be the matter of where you focus your attention. In the communication you describe, the focus seems to be solely and wholly directed to the other person.

Absolutely; that's communion. If I don't have my attention on me, then I can communicate with you, I can join you; I can really get where you're coming from.

 

How do you train yourself to get your attention off yourself?

This goes back to listening only to what the speaker is saying. Bring yourself present to what the speaker is saying; hang on every word.

When you catch yourself drifting off--which you will--simply say, "I got distracted; I'm back." Announce it. When you do that, you strengthen the muscle called "presencing." This isn't something we've really allowed ourselves to strengthen. We did as little children, but somewhere along the way we gave it up. At three, or at five, or at 15, we said, "What's the point of being present? Nobody else is!"

 

Is that protective?

Yes. When you walk through life and notice how many people are not present, it becomes very lonely. Isn't anybody home? It's like walking through long, empty corridors, and it looks like people are there, but they're not. They're physically there, but they're all wrapped in themselves, so nobody's there.

There's no opportunity to connect, so there's a hunger. [Abraham] Maslow refers to this as "recognition hunger." Recognition hunger is simply the recognition there's another human being there. Knowing that we exist is a basic need; when we have an energy exchange, we get that sense, we feel that we exist. When we feel the lack of that, when we feel we just don't exist for the other person, then we withdraw to protect ourselves.

 

What price have we paid in growing up not being heard?

Many of us kill off our own vitality. If nobody else is listening to us, we don't listen to ourselves, either.

That's a serious price. We don't act out on our dreams. We don't follow through on our goals. We don't believe in our visions--or anybody else's, for that matter. We kill our own spirit. If we don't kill ourselves off physically, as some youngsters do, we kill the spirit, or severely diminish and limit the spirit.

Many of us miss the opportunity of the contribution that we naturally are. We miss the opportunity to contribute back to the world, because we weren't listening to "us."

Do you know, it's okay to be scared and do it anyway?

We have a new crop of celebrities today, for which I'm grateful. They speak openly about being fearful and doing it anyway. I recently heard an interviewer say to Jennifer Lopez, "People say you are fearless, that you're never afraid." And she said, "Are you kidding? Get out of here! I'm scared all the time--and I do it anyway. Because I listen to what is important to me, and I know I have something to contribute, so I do that. And I'm always scared."

I just heard an interview with George Clooney, who had just directed his first film. Was he afraid? Yeah, and he called on his buddies, his colleagues. Nobody said you can't do it because you are afraid. I like to use this analogy: I'm in a chariot in Spartacus. My fear is like the horses. I'm in that Spartacus seat--and my horses pull me forward.

 

Carol, put yourself in the world where the kind of communication you envision is really taking place: what does that world look like?

There's no war on Iraq.

We all know about cures for diseases that had been declared to have no cure; we know about them because we have been listening.

It's the hundredth monkey syndrome: all of a sudden, the world shifts, and we truly do become our brother's keeper. We don't tolerate poverty; we don't tolerate famine. There isn't anybody who doesn't have an education, because billions have already paid for it. There's nothing remotely like our current level of unemployment. Nobody goes on strikes, because we have truly listened to each other, and out of listening we have given our contribution so that others benefit.

Am I talking about a socialistic kind of society? Absolutely not. I'm talking about listening in a way that allows all of us to honor where each person is and support him there, where we know the appropriate type of support to give because we've been listening. That's what I see.

 

When are we going to do that one?

I don't know, John. It could happen in this millennium. My vision is that it happens by 2020--that's my 2020 vision, so to speak.