Podcast Episode 010: Foreign language interpreter Eva Hussain helps you understand how to listen to emotion and get beyond the words

In this episode of Deep Listening, we have the opportunity to listen to Eva Hussain who is an accredited NAATI translator and foreign interpreter. She is also the founder and CEO of Polaron a language services provider. The mission of Polaron is to transform the language services sector and be the leading authority on European citizenship worldwide. The company has seen steady growth since Eva has been managing it.

Eva’s voluntary roles include founding member of Australasian Association of Language Companies, deputy president of the Australian Society of Polish Jews and secretary of Polish Community Services of Victoria. Eva is originally from Poland and wants to solve complex communication problems between different cultures and geographical areas. She speaks 6 or 7 languages, but English and Polish are her strongest languages. Listen in as Eva shares her story and communication philosophy.

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Tune in to learn

  • Eva always wanted to immigrate to Australia, but started out in France first.
  • Her first few years in Australia were incredibly difficult even though it was her desire to integrate.
  • Interpreters are actors who act out other people’s words. What comes out of the mouth of an interpreter needs to represent the intent and meaning.
  • It’s like a loop where the language is stored on the interpreter’s brain and then transformed into a different language and conveyed to the listener.
  • There are no opinions. To practice interpreting watch the news and pause it for 30 seconds and then repeat what was just said.
  • Preparation for interpreting includes self care and preparing oneself on an emotional level.
  • Some interpretation jobs can be quite difficult emotionally, such as when someone is in a life and death situation.
  • Acting professionally at all times no matter how difficult it is.
  • Breathing techniques can be used to calm the interpreter down.
  • Being assertive and asking for breaks is also important.
  • The importance of understanding context and getting what is unsaid.
  • In difficult situations the best thing that an interpreter can do is to do justice to the words. Be very conscious of not being judgemental.
  • The four villains of listening are the lost listener, the interrupting listener, the shrewd listener, and the dramatic listener. For Eva, the interrupter is the worst.
  • Give people from other cultures space to get their point across.

Links and resources

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Transcription

 

Episode 10: Deep Listening with Eva Hussain 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words. 

Eva Hussain:  

People that come to Australia from different context, don’t know how to listen to Australians because we’re hearing words, we’re seeing smiling faces, but we don’t understand what they mean. So, for example, Eastern Europeans in my experience are seen as negative sometimes, not all the time, negative, pragmatic, very direct, but we think of ourselves as being realistic. With English and with Australia, we don’t quite understand the context. And that takes a long time to actually get what’s being unsaid, if that makes sense?  

Oscar Trimboli: 

In this episode of Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words, we have the opportunity to listen to Eva. A foreign language interpreter, and learn from her own experience spanning multiple cultures. Originally from Poland in Eastern Europe, her intersection with a local Australian manager who didn’t understand her cultural context propelled her to create a global organisation that spans Poland, United Kingdom, New York, and Australia. She bridges complex communication problems from court rooms to community halls. Let’s listen in as Eva brings her insight into how cultures can come together to solve complex communication problems.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Welcome, Eva! How many languages do you speak? 

Eva Hussain: 

Probably about six about six or seven, but two of them really well. So that’s Polish and English. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Great! And after Polish, what would be your third most strongest language? 

Eva Hussain:  

Probably Russian and French on par.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

And then? Keep going. 

Eva Hussain: 

Ukrainian and little other bits and pieces, Turkish, Hindi, I understand a lot of languages but I have only a passive knowledge.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Let’s tell them the story of Eva, right back from where you were born and how you came to be where you are today. 

Eva Hussain: 

Oh dear! I am turning 50 this year, so it’s a bit of a milestone. I was born in Poland in a small town of about 60,000 people, where I went to school until I was 18. So, we’re talking about communist Poland with food shortages. It was a very restrictive place except that we didn’t know that it was. When you don’t know any better, you just put up with whatever you have. But I’ve always had a desire to immigrate to Australia because we have family here who came here just after the war. So, when I turned 18, I went to France with my father. And in those days, we couldn’t get a passport as a family, so my mum and my brother stayed back and we didn’t actually see them for four years before coming to Australia. 

In France, I spent about 12 months and then I came to Australia. And I have to say that whole journey was just so incredibly irresponsible on my part because we had this vision of the west as everything is going to be okay once we get there, you’ll be fine. And I didn’t speak a word of English when I came here. I had no money and I was also seven months pregnant, but that’s another story. At the age of 18.  

Two months after I have arrived, my son who is now nearly 31 was born. But yeah the first few years were incredibly difficult and again we didn’t know that they were difficult but we just had to put up with stuff and kind of integrate. My desire was always to integrate in Australia to the point where I tried very hard to neutralise my accent, I still sound foreign even though I’ve lived here for 32 years.  

I’ve worked with Psycholinguistics to try and make me sound more Australian, and gave up after about six months because I think after the age of 12 or 13 you can’t necessarily fix it.  

When I was about 21, I went back to school, to college. I got myself educated and got a job and worked for various corporations for local governments. And in 2000, I opened my own company that deals with interpreting and translating.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Okay. So, Eva, let’s explain how interpreting works in a foreign language to those people who aren’t familiar? 

Eva Hussain: 

Interpreters are really actors, so we act out other people’s words. In other words, we never know what comes out of people’s mouths before they say it and what comes out of our mouths has to represent not just the words but the intent and the culture all kinds of other things.  

The way that an interpreters head works is that we hear things, we store them in a section of our brain where short term memory is stored, we convert it into another language and we spit it out in that language, and it goes on a loop. It’s a very intense and complex process, and it can never be 100% accurate because unlike translation, when you see the text in front of you, with interpreting you don’t know what people are going to say.  

Sometimes there are and most of the time actually there are emotions attached to what people say, they might be saying too much for our brains to retain. It’s a very unique task I guess where we cannot present our opinion or we can’t judge what people say, we just have to stick to acting out other people’s words.  

It’s quite a difficult and complex task I guess. But if anybody wants to try interpreting even if they don’t speak another language, I have a little tip. And that is tonight at home turn on the news, sit there with your remote, turn the news on for 30 seconds, turn it off and try and repeat what the news readers just said. And I think…In other words, to be able to repeat 30 seconds of somebody’s speech is actually really quite challenging without taking notes and being 100% accurate.  

The other point I wanted to make is that languages are not linear. In other words, when we translate, we translate concepts not words. Often people don’t understand that and they’ll say things like, “Make sure you translate it word for word.” Well, that doesn’t work. For example, if you say, paint the town red in English, or if I say to you, put the light out, I’m not saying get a brush and paint the town red and I’m not saying take the light and put it outside. I’m saying whatever the meaning is, so I have to find an equivalent in that language that means the same thing but the words might be quite different. 

Eva Hussain: 

Okay. Interpreters are really actors, so we act out other people’s words. In other words, we never know what comes out of people’s mouths before they say it and what comes out of our mouths has to represent not just the words but the intent and the culture all kinds of other things.  

The way that an interpreters head works is that we hear things, we store them in a section of our brain where short term memory is stored, we convert it into another language and we spit it out in that language, and it goes on a loop. It’s a very intense and complex process, and it can never be 100% accurate because unlike translation, when you see the text in front of you, with interpreting you don’t know what people are going to say.  

Sometimes there are and most of the time actually there are emotions attached to what people say, they might be saying too much for our brains to retain. It’s a very unique task I guess where we cannot present our opinion or we can’t judge what people say, we just have to stick to acting out other people’s words.  

It’s quite a difficult and complex task I guess. But if anybody wants to try interpreting even if they don’t speak another language, I have a little tip. And that is tonight at home turn on the news, sit there with your remote, turn the news on for 30 seconds, turn it off and try and repeat what the news readers just said. And I think…In other words, to be able to repeat 30 seconds of somebody’s speech is actually really quite challenging without taking notes and being 100% accurate.  

The other point I wanted to make is that languages are not linear. In other words, when we translate, we translate concepts not words. Often people don’t understand that and they’ll say things like, “Make sure you translate it word for word.” Well, that doesn’t work. For example, if you say, paint the town red in English, or if I say to you, put the light out, I’m not saying get a brush and paint the town red and I’m not saying take the light and put it outside. I’m saying whatever the meaning is, so I have to find an equivalent in that language that means the same thing but the words might be quite different. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Eva help our audience, if you just say the last 30 seconds of that or any other phrase in Polish or Russian, so that the audience can spend 30 seconds in your shoes. 

Eva Hussain: 

So maybe what I’ll do I’ll just repeat what you’ve said in Polish, which was a bit less than 30 seconds but Eva [Polish 00:13:34] I don’t know if you heard, when I speak English I don’t speak as fast, I kind of become a different person when I speak Polish. It’s really quite difficult to explain, but you won’t be able to see me because it’s a podcast but if you were to see my body language you’d see that I become more animated, I really become a different person when I speak another language. 

And also of course because I’m repeating your words just in another language, so there is a disconnect there where I am not responsible for what you say. In other words, if you were to swear or say something that I don’t agree with, I still don’t have the right to change that message, my job is to be impartial to what you say and to translate it into another language accurately with no judgement. 

Oscar Trimboli:  

Eva, talk us through the preparation you do as an interpreter when it literally in some situations is ad-hoc some situations it’s not. How do you prepare yourself both physically and mentally as you prepare to go into a situation where you have to solve communication problems? 

Eva Hussain: 

Often one of the misconceptions that people that are not interpreters have is that terminology is the biggest problem for interpreters, and it isn’t. Firstly, because most of them are very experienced and they’re exposed to all kinds of topics, issues. That is why we have a lot of very extensive knowledge about a lot of things. The biggest issue I guess is self-care and preparing yourself at an emotional level because in the community context you will have people dying on you or having to interpret for someone whose switch off life support, or imperative care context, or dementia context, so that can be really quite difficult.  

The terminology aspect of it is something that interpreters do prepare for, but I would say that if we were to give a percentage, that would be only be about 10% of what we have to do. So, let’s say it’s a conference and a topic that we’re not familiar with, then of course we need to read up on briefing notes, see the PowerPoint presentation that someone is going to present etc cetera. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

And apart from preparing with the content, you talked about self-care and being prepared outside of the context of life and death. How do you prepare yourself, how do you get your mind set right to come into those situations? 

Eva Hussain: 

I try and act professional at all times. As difficult as this context the situation can be, if I break down… And let me tell you at times we do working in situations that are massively upsetting, then I’m not doing my job, so it’s a frame of mind. I take notes during interpreting and that helps me kind of disconnect a little bit from what happens. And it also helps people that I’m there to help communicate talk to each other. So, interpreting happens in the first person, I don’t say he said she said, everything is I, I, I. And when I take notes I look down and people necessarily have to look at each other, so that helps communication in the first place but it also helps me remove myself a little from what’s happening and what might be upsetting.  

That’s one technique that I use. Checking just half a minute before I walk into a session just realigning my mindset, reminding myself that I am to be impartial and professional that everything is going to be kept confidential. And then walking in making sure that the sitting arrangements work and taking notes so that first of all I can be accurate and secondly people can talk to each other and see me as a conduit to the exchange rather than a participant, if that makes sense.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Yes. What role does breathing play in your preparation? 

Eva Hussain: 

If I’m nervous, if I am concerned about what’s about to happen, then I use breathing techniques to calm myself down. It’s just something I’ve developed over the years and it happens without any thinking on my part. So, my breathing sort of slows down and I walk in with a hat of being a consummate professional interpreter.  

Preparing to listen. I read a lot, and that maybe… If it’s a high-level interpreting for a head of state, then you do need to come prepared and informed and also you need to be really flexible because people say things that… They might give you their speech but it’s not necessary what’s going to happen on the day. And there are stories of interpreters of course that saved the world by not interpreting what the head of state said, which can be amusing but really there are a couple of examples where interpreters actually censored what was said.  

The preparation is to be always prepared. You really have to be on your toes. You have to manage people like where they sit. You have to do things like ask for breaks, which sounds strange but people think that for some reason that you can keep going for two hours without a break. You kind of have to be assertive and you need to make people understand that they need to trust you in managing the interpreting that’s about to happen. And the preparation even includes clothes that you wear.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

What drew you to your profession? You’ve been in your own business now for many decades and making big impact in solving communications problems and listening. What was it that you wanted to achieve through your profession? 

Eva Hussain: 

I don’t know, is the answer. All of this happened kind of accidentally. I worked for local government where I had a running with my boss who despite all my efforts of trying to integrate, he called me in one day and said, you know what, you don’t belong… These were her very words, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with you, you’re not a team player.” And I was like, “Really, how come?” I couldn’t understand it. And at that point I thought… I was very hurt, but I thought I’m going to take my toys and go to my own playground and make my own story.  

That was really something I didn’t quite understand. And I think it’s really interesting when we talk about listening. People that come to Australia from different context, don’t know how to listen to Australians because we’re hearing words, we’re seeing smiling faces, but we don’t understand what they mean. So, for example, Eastern Europeans in my experience are seen as negative sometimes, not all the time, negative, pragmatic, very direct, but we think of ourselves as being realistic. With English and with Australia, we don’t quite understand the context. And that takes a long time to actually get what’s being unsaid, if that makes sense?  

And some people just never get it. I still worry about how people perceive me because of that background that I have where if you talk to me about anything, the first thing I see is the problem and I want to talk about the problem and I don’t necessarily want to talk about how to solve it, whereas I see in Australia we see… We don’t even call them problems, we call them challenges here, and then we focus on solutions. And that’s something really valuable that I’ve learned here that I need to shift my thinking and sort of read between the lines a lot about what’s being said.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

What do you think Australians can learn from the Polish way of listening, or what do you think Australians can learn from the Russian way of listening? 

Eva Hussain: 

We talk less than other people I think. We give people room and space to say what they think. We try not to interrupt. I mean, whatever I’m saying here is pretty general but generally speaking we’re less wordy, we’re more formal, so if we don’t know people sort of on a first names basis, so that the initial contact is quite formal and it might appear a bit cold. But we’ll sit back and let people talk if we don’t know them. But we don’t suffer fools gladly, so we sort of give people an opportunity to prove themselves and we’ll sit back and listen and then want to maybe contribute.  

But I think it takes maybe longer to develop relationships in a business context. So, what Australians could learn is yeah, listen more and speak less. That’s what do we say? That we have one mouth and two ears, that is helpful to maybe sizing up your opposition or just understanding the context. Perhaps living in Australia we’re even more removed because we might worry how we’re going to be perceived, how we’re going to be understood.  

I think Australians are already pretty good I would say anyway. I think they give people a go, which is something I really love about Australia. They give you space as well to talk and explain what you do for example. But they’re a little bit less patient and less direct I guess. And there is a lot of smiling that we don’t always understand.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

I’m curious, in your work in your work in the community sector do you work with children and what does listening mean as an interpreter in that context? 

Eva Hussain: 

Okay. Working with children is a very interesting area because most children actually do speak English, so often we work with their parents and their children are there. And they’re Polish or Russian or whatever language skills might not be really good because they were born in Australia, so they kind of speak a kitchen variety. And often they resent speaking Polish because they don’t understand the context of… They really want to belong in Australia.  

The children I have interpreted for and I can give you one example and it was a pretty harrowing case because it was to do with child abuse in a church setting. It was really difficult because on one hand I had to act professionally and the child was with the mother they were being interviewed by the police. On another hand, I was just mortified by the whole situation and the fact that I was part of that community and like without wanting to be judgemental I was just petrified of the whole thing. 

The best I can do in that sort of a situation is just do justice to the words to make sure that I’m interpreting really accurately, I’m listening, just give justice to the communication on the day.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

How do you catch yourself in that moment to stay out of judgement, how do you notice it, and how do you stay away from it? 

Eva Hussain: 

I very early in my career I had a situation that has taught me a lifetime lesson, so since then I’ve been very conscious of not being judgemental. And this was in a tribunal situation where I was interpreting for a couple of people that looked in a certain away, so they kind of looked like uneducated peasants, for lack of a better word. And the situation got very quickly out of hand, there was a lot of anger in the room so the hearing was stopped and I felt really quite bad for this elderly parent because I read the situation in a particular way.  

Anyway, we left the tribunal hearing room and in fact we were told to leave through a separate entrance because it was such a volatile situation. And I did see the parents driving off in a silver Mercedes from the car park. I guess the shock value of that was don’t you ever, ever to myself, ever, ever judge a situation because you just don’t know. You don’t know what people are thinking, you don’t know where people have come from, you don’t know anything, and you don’t need to know anything. All you need to know is to do a good interpreting job on the day. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

And how has that informed you going forward then when you catch yourself in judgement what’s the mental tricks you play to get yourself back out of judgement? Because one of the things people struggle with in their listening is being judgmental. In fact, one of the four villains of listening, the shrewd listener, spends a lot of their time in judgement, and what it stops them from doing is actually listening to what’s happening in front of them. How do you get back in the game so to speak without judgement? 

Eva Hussain: 

I have a mantra and I do a lot of self-talk, so it’d be don’t judge, these are not your words, you’ve got to say what these people have said, you have to act it out, it’s not your problem, you’re not part of this conversation other than facilitating communication. It kind of happens in your head unconsciously, but I’m very aware of it and I couldn’t do this job if I was judgemental because you do deal with all kinds of situations that you might not agree with or be aligned with. For me, it’s a mantra, it’s the self-talk kind of technique where I just say don’t judge, it’s not your problem, you’re here to interpret.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Okay. So let’s take you out of your interpreting context and put you in everyday life.  

Eva Hussain: 

Yes.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

And let’s talk about the four villains of listening, the lost listener, the interrupting listener, the shrewd listener, and the dramatic listener. Which one of those frustrate you the most when somebody is listening to you? 

Eva Hussain: 

By far, the interrupting. I hate it so much when people haven’t let you finish your sentence and they already know what you’re going to say, or they switch off. You can see their eyes glazing over, they switch off halfway through the point you’re trying to make because they already think they know what you’re going to say. It’s annoying. And it happens a lot to women… Sorry, I think. In my experience, anyway. And I think also because I give people a lot of space when I listen to them they mistake that for… Because people want to fill up that space with chatter, whereas I’m happy to say less but better. That would be the most frustrating type of listener for me I think.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

What do you think the cost is to you and to the interrupting listener? 

Eva Hussain: 

The cost is that I think less of them. I’m not an equal partner in their conversation if people don’t give me enough space and time to explain, express myself, then I’m at a disadvantage. How that then translate to a transaction let’s say, I don’t know, I haven’t measured it, but it annoys me. I don’t I guess appreciate the exchange, the conversation as much as I would if I was given equal footing.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Thinking about the four villains and thinking about you as a listener, which one do you think you’re guilty of? 

Eva Hussain: 

Probably shrewd listener I think. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

How does that show up in your personal situation? 

Eva Hussain: 

Yeah, I want to size people up I guess. I want to always, always, always blend in and not ever stand out especially if it’s in a context that I don’t know well or in a business kind of situation or networking. And I prefer for people to talk and me to listen, but it’s not always acting active listening, I have to say. Sometimes I kind of let them talk because it’s easier for me to listen than make conversation.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

And for those of you listening who weren’t able to see it the minute Eva said she was not actively listening, her face tightened up a bit again and that’s another number or signal except for me what I’m looking for while I’m listening to Eva is the congruency between what’s on her face and what’s coming out of her mouth, and she’s so congruent, she’s so transparent, everything she says aligns beautifully and that makes listening to her such pleasure and so easy to do. I thank you for that transparency Eva.  

Let’s just dance with the concept, the 125-400 rule says, we speak at a 125 words a minute and we can listen between 400 and 900, and some people nearly up to 1250 words a minute. But what that means for the speaker is there are thinking about 400 to 600 words a minute but they can only say 125 words a minute as well. What it means is, the most powerful thing in listening is level four, what’s unsaid. And what’s unsaid is all the ideas in your mind, 400 of them. 400 words that you’re trying to get out but you can only get out 125 to 150 if you’re a really fast speaker. So, Eva, how do you explore what’s unsaid with others when you’re listening? 

Eva Hussain: 

It would certainly be the tone voice because you can say anything but depending on your tone voice the receiver will take it differently. It’ll be the silences, the pauses. It’ll be facial expressions, when they’re looking impatient or… Loudness of voices, these are some of the things I look out for.  

And in my professional life that’s actually quite difficult to translate or interpret because worry is… let’s say somebody is really angry, do I amplify that message by interpreting in a really angry tone of voice or do I remain neutral and professional because whoever I’m interpreting for can already see that the person is angry or sad? 

Different interpreters will have a different approach to that. Mine is that I… My tone of voice is pretty even and levelled and I try not to introduce extra elements.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Well, let’s put Eva the interpreter and the actor off stage and lets just focus on Eva, how do you explore unsaid in everyday dialogue? 

Eva Hussain: 

I look at it, I analyse it, I try and understand the context, I try and look into myself and work out whether what I’m seeing, what I’m hearing, or what I’m not hearing or seeing, how do I translate that into what I understand given that I am from a different culture and context and situations. I’m always watchful, kind of aware, and I try to learn lessons from it. Every time I see somebody or speak to them and I’ve assessed them, I think to myself, okay what lesson am I learning from this, what can I take away to enrich my own communication, my own listening skills, my own professional practise on my own personal lives. Yeah, I’ve got one. I don’t know if it’s particularly pertinent but I think when you’re dealing with people from other cultures, give them the benefit of the doubt because they come from a different context, which may not be aligned with yours. Give them space to explain. Give them an opportunity. That would be sort of final words from Eva.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

And they’re great final words to leave us on, Eva! 

Oscar Trimboli: 

I love the way that Eva has brought her passion for listening into every conversation she has each day. The way she brings that passion in her personal and professional life is quite powerful. I hope you took away the fact that although we may live in modern, multicultural, and secular societies, the opportunities for misunderstanding in everyday conversation are literally everywhere. But by taking a bit of extra time to understand what people are actually expressing and meaning by listening more deeply, we can remove chaos, confusion, and conflict. And Eva did a great job of this.  

Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words. 

Podcast Episode 009: Soundscape designer Mitch Allen explains the role your physical surroundings play in improving your listening

Today, I have a conversation with acoustic engineer and soundscape designer Mitch Allen. He has over 10 years experience as an acoustic engineer and is currently spearheading the business offering of Soundscape Design for Arup within the Australasian region. He is also the founder of One Two Studios a music production company that specializes in bespoke royalty free music. Mitch has been commissioned for various local and International soundscape installations, and he is passionate about sound design in urban environments.

In this episode, he takes us to the jungles of Bali to illustrate that listening is not something we just do with our ears, it is a multi-sensory experience. Mitch shares the dimensions of the role of a soundscape designer. He talks about the differences between creating soundscapes in modern industrial environments and yoga studios. This is an amazing show, not only because of what Mitch says, but how he says it.

Listen now

Tune in to learn

  • Acoustic engineers solve acoustic challenges of a place or area.
  • Mitch solves problems such as mitigating noise or vibration.
  • Mitch likes to create a desirable sound experience and that is why he started calling what he actually does as soundscape design.
  • Restaurants are often challenging environments for communication.
  • These areas need to have a positive soundscape, but it is hard to satisfy everyone’s desires.
  • A desirable soundscape is attached to the intent of the purpose of the area.
  • For the Vivid Sydney project Mitch took sounds from the Harbor and transformed them into sounds of the future.
  • Mitch shares how the yoga studio sound he designed needed a hum and he used a 40 hertz sound of a crystal himalayan
  • Mitch had a challenging yoga studio soundscape design where the owners wanted a 40 hertz hum playing throughout the area, but it didn’t sound right.
  • Mitch solved the problem by using a recording from a crystal Himalayan singing bowl and adjusting the frequency.
  • Sound is just a form of energy in a vibrational frequency in a range that we can hear.
  • The frequencies are the oscillating waves or vibration in the air.
  • Our ears pick up the vibration and it is converted to sound energy.
  • Noise is unwanted sound. Sound is something that you can choose to hear or ignore.
  • Using natural soundscapes as opposed to sound masking in an office environment to minimize the distractions.
  • To prepare for listening it is a good idea to remove or be aware of the internal dialogue.
  • Embracing the full body experience of listening or the sounds that Mitch feels as he experiences the world.

Links and resources

Want to create a big impact?

Subscribe to the Deep Listening podcast on your favourite service and never miss an episode.

If you have any suggestions, questions or recommendations for people to interview for podcast please email oscar@oscartrimboli.com

Transcription

 

Episode 009: Deep Listening with Mitch Allen

Oscar Trimboli:

Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words

Mitch Allen:

Acoustics is often described as a black art where we talk about very technical concepts that aren’t very accessible to people without acoustic training. To be able to actually just listen subjectively and understand on a personal level what we’re talking about is very demystifying as well. Everybody who has hearing can listen to something and make a judgement and everybody feels like that’s an accessible way to interpret data.

Oscar Trimboli:

In this episode of Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words, we have the opportunity to listen to soundscape designer, Mitch Allen, who works for a global multi-disciplinary engineering firm, Arup. He takes us to the jungles of Bali and he helps us understand that listening is not just something that you do with your ears, but it’s a multi-sensory experience. Listen carefully as he describes on two dimensions, the role of a soundscape designer. How he creates world-class soundscapes in modern industrial environments and then listen out carefully as he talks about creating soundscapes in yoga studios. With Mitch today, I’d love you to listen not only to what he says but how he says it, because he’s got an incredible energy and passion for the topic of soundscapes.

Let’s listen to Mitch.

Oscar Trimboli:

So Mitch, for those of us in the audience who don’t know what a soundscape engineer does, just talk to us about a day in the life of Mitch and taking a brief and bringing that to life and spaces where communities and organisations come together.

Mitch Allen:

Sure. I call myself a soundscape designer. I work for a multi-disciplinary engineering firm and I work in the acoustics team. Traditionally, acoustic engineers would satisfy a brief to solve any acoustic challenges that may occur in a project. And through my experience, it’s often predominantly focused around solving problems more so than creating experiences and by that, I mean the language we use if often around mitigating noise and designing solutions for acoustic issues like higher vibration times or different acoustic concepts. And often the language isn’t used around creating a desirable experience. So that’s where I start to use the language of soundscape design as opposed to acoustic engineering in that there’s a huge opportunity for us to be designing the future of cities and work places and precincts and everywhere, really. With a view to actively engaging in how those spaces might sound or well-being, for experience, for activation, for all sorts of different reasons, but rather than approaching that design process from the perspective of mitigating noise, more so thinking of the acoustic environments where we’d like to create, if that makes sense.

Oscar Trimboli:

As a soundscape designer, what’s a great example of a well-designed space that you could help the audience understand how sound plays a role? Whether that’s in a work place or a gathering of people in a community. What are some of the soundscapes that people hold up as amazing.

Mitch Allen:

It’s interesting, the first example that came to mind when you were talking about that and one of the interesting, the first example that came to mind when you were talking about that and one of the most accessible for the public in general is the issue of restaurants and being able to hear each other and be able to communicate in what are often acoustically challenging environments. I was talking to a colleague the other day about discussions on policy change in entertainment in Sydney and how we actually promote venues to be places where music and conversation can co-exist. And to create an appropriate soundscape for that area that promotes liveliness in the city. You focus on the positive soundscape side of things. It’s interesting, it’s different for different people and that’s what’s challenging about implementing appropriate soundscapes in different locations. It’s hard to satisfy everybody’s idea of what a good soundscape might be, people often have a high affinity to natural soundscapes and quiet. Conversely, different demographics and different age groups might be attracted by more liveliness or engagement in their acoustic surroundings and more stimulation.

Finding that balance, given that sound is so pervasive, through the community, is often difficult challenge. But to answer your question about what’s a desirable soundscape, it’s very much attached to what the intent for a space might be. You might be trying to design an appropriate soundscape for a quiet, meditative space where you are looking to recuperate and heal, or you might be trying to design a soundscape for a precinct that’s aiming to reinvigorate and reimagine a future of an otherwise acoustically dead space, if that makes sense.

Oscar Trimboli:

What’s a soundscape you’ve helped to design your most proud of?

Mitch Allen:

We just finished a project recently for Vivid, it’s a lighting festival in Sydney. And AMP actually engaged us to reimagine the soundscape for the Loftus Lane precinct, where they’re undertaking a large development there. And currently it’s the back lane that’s fully dominated by inner city sounds, lots of mechanical plant, road traffic noise, not a very quiet place. It’s in a CBD, but it’s also the back alley that basically services a lot of driveways and emergency egress from the existing buildings that- and what we did was work with projection mappers and the lighting designers of Arup as well to create an immersive environment that imagines what the space could be in the future. So, at night time, it really transformed into a new space. Now, the imagination of that space very much bordered on composition and it tried to capture the past and present and future of the space by incorporating a special soundscape through the area that had natural elements but also content from recorded past and also a recorded present around the harbour and reimagining that to see how it sound in the future. That’s one of the most recent projects that we worked on in terms of activation and place making using sound.

Oscar Trimboli:

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve heard back from a client after you’ve deployed a soundscape?

Mitch Allen:

That example that I gave of the Vivid Sydney installation. Like I said, we took recordings from around the harbour and we effected them to not be recognisable as natural sounds that we’ve recorded, but to be an imagination of the future. And one of the pieces of feedback we got was that the client could hear a song on the DNA of Sydney in the soundscape. After I told them the process, the put it down to the fact that we’d actually used raw material from Sydney, reimagined it and that would be the explanation for why they thought it sounded so Sydney. That was a nice piece of feedback.

Oscar Trimboli:

It’s a great example of expressing meaning through your soundscape that you created.

Mitch Allen:

I am quite proud, yeah. I think it came off quite well and I think that point is a good one. The content of something doesn’t need to be explicit and in alignment with the topic of this podcast. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an obvious piece of communication that communicates an idea. It can be a very subtle but intrinsic thing in that communicating of an idea that’s really fundamental to the conveyance of that message.

Oscar Trimboli:

It sounds like your brief was quite extensive, but a brief simply could have been bring the DNA of Sydney to the soundscape.

Mitch Allen:

It’s interesting, these design processes often hopefully, can evolve that way though. While some of the best briefs are a little bit open-ended, we do need to achieve certain requirements. But to be able to have that ability to let the design grow and blossom and take different directions is really a luxury and in my experience, often results in a great outcome.

Oscar Trimboli:

What kinds of questions would you ask to explore that area of what’s unsaid in the design process?

Mitch Allen:

It’s interesting, using sound for me, well often, not just be words that I use to describe what my venture in the design process. But really, the questions that I would ask framed around have you thought outside the box? Are we just using acoustics? It’s a box taking exercise to make sure we meet policy and criteria, or is there a missed opportunity here to actually enhance the experience of the people that would be using this development? That’s in very general terms. It’s obviously very different development and different for every client as well. Generally, it will be trying to push the envelope in terms of, yes, every acoustic engineer out there can meet the criteria that we are designing for, but beyond that, have you thought about designing above and beyond or differently, to be commensurate with the architectural and experiential intent of the development.

Even more so, acoustics is often described as a black art where we talk about very technical concepts that aren’t very accessible to people without acoustic training. To be able to actually just listen subjectively and understand on a personal level what we’re talking about is very demystifying as well. So, while to of those three-dimensionals is one component of it, it’s also a language barrier. Everybody who has hearing can listen to something and make a judgement and everybody feels like that’s an accessible way to interpret data. And indeed, we’re looking into how that would be beneficial in terms of data sonification and things like that.

Oscar Trimboli:

So, we’ve talked about soundscapes in a fairly common setting. You know, a CBD of the major metropolitan global city. What’s an unusual soundscape and location for a soundscape you’ve been part of designing?

Mitch Allen:

One of the ones that I enjoyed is I did a soundscape design for a yoga studio down in Melbourne and that opened one up in Sydney as well. And at the core of their offering is it’s this 40-hertz hum. The client was very adamant that they needed this 40-hertz hum to be played throughout their entire design for a yoga studio down in Melbourne and that opened one up in Sydney as well. And at the core of their offering is it’s this 40-hertz hum. The client was very adamant that they needed this 40-hertz hum to be played throughout their entire Shala. And when they played a sign where it was 40 hertz, it was unnatural and I didn’t know what to do, so they came to us and we ended up taking a recording to a crystal Himalayan singing bowl and we did tune it to 40 hertz so it had a more natural ring to it. By virtue of the client being very interested in 40 hertz as an energetic frequency that is supposed to promote the practise, we also got talking about brainwave entrainment and different components of the soundscape that we could develop in order for it to be a nice, holistic experience.

So, I ended up amplitude modulating that 40-hertz hum anywhere 7.83 and 8 hertz and to try to further enhance that grounding and performance, and for each of their styles of class, I think it was mellow, unified and dynamic. I created a long-form accompanying soundscapes that were harmonious with that base 40-hertz hum, but also promoted that different level of the yoga techniques from very relaxing through to quite intense.

That was a really interesting experience being able to work with a client who’s very interested in the effects of sound on the ability of their customers to perform and how we might use that to change the whole experience. And the feedback from customers and instructors alike was great. It was very much that the sound was fundamental to the experience. As soon as you enter the Shala to undertake your practise, you’re met with this warm, enveloping hum that carries you through all the way and yeah, that was very interesting and unusual to work on. Their studio called Humming Puppy, so humming being the hum and puppy being a play on downward dog. They’ve got a studio in Prahran, in Melbourne, and they also opened one in Chippendale up in Sydney.

Oscar Trimboli:

Fabulous! Mitch, can you just take us back a step. I’ve got my four-year old granddaughter Ruby next to me. I need you to take me through hertz and waves and all you just described to understand how sound passes through to the human body and what the role of waves are and hertz are playing there. Because being a master in your craft, we’d love to make that accessible to Ruby and the younger audience when explaining how sound moves through the body.

Mitch Allen:

Absolutely. Thank you, that’s a great question. I’ve got a five-year old daughter and I enjoy playing her these things and explaining it as it goes. By way of introduction to sound… Sound, for all intense and purposes, is just another form of energy. It’s a vibrational frequency within the range that we can hear with our ears. So, a lot of the podcasts has been talking about finding meaning and deep listening. I would say that listening is actually not just done with your ears, but sound is specifically the frequencies that you can hear and by frequencies, I mean the waves that are being oscillated… I think I’m using too big words for Ruby.

Oscar Trimboli:

Yeah. No, come on, Ruby. What’s your five-year old’s name?

Mitch Allen:

Ollie.

Oscar Trimboli:

All right. Let’s talk to Ollie and talk to him as if you’re explaining how sound gets created and absorbed into the body.

Mitch Allen:

Okay, no problem. So, when I’m speaking to you, I’m creating sound with my mouth. That sound is vibrating the air, going back and forth until it hits your ear. And when it hits your ear, it goes inside your ear, all the way down your ear canal to your ear drum, and your ear drum is able to pick up those vibrational frequencies that came through the air and it’s converted into electrical energy, another form of energy that is fed to your brain and you can hear it as sound in your brain. That is what sound is. Another thing that I would like to say is that sound is different from noise. Noise is identified as unwanted sound. Sound is just the thing that I’ve described and you can choose to engage with it, or you can choose to just hear it.

Oscar Trimboli:

Beautiful explanation. So, simple and so accessible. In exploring soundscapes that office workers may be part of, how would they improve their ability to listen in a soundscape that’s productive and effective for them? Imagine two scenarios, two people having a conversation, maybe it’s an open-plan office, maybe it’s an office with a door. And the other, a team meeting scenario. If I was asking on their behalf to give you advice on how to optimise the environment so not only people can listen, but they can hear.

Mitch Allen:

Okay. Arup invest a lot of our profits back into the company in the form of research and I was lucky enough to be a part of a team that undertook some research recently. Looking at the benefits of natural soundscapes in a work place environment, as an alternative to traditional sound masking. In an open-plan office environment, often they will install a loud speaker system to create a uniform background noise level that can raise the background the noise level, and what they’re trying to do is minimise the distraction from your co-worker speaking, by having the emergence of that speech stimulus, being too far about the background. Often that will just be pink noise that’s pumped throughout an open-plan office area, and we were looking into what it would mean to change that as a sound masking system.

But your question was around how do you improve the environments of commercial offices and how would you better communicate with each other in terms of acoustics and being able to receive meaning. For me, it’s actually important to understand what the type of communication is. I think there is benefit for different types of acoustic environment in different areas of commercial spaces that can be commensurate with different types of interactions. So, if you’re having a very serious discussion about a very serious issue, then a very enclosed environment with a controlled acoustic condition is potentially appropriate. If you’re otherwise trying to promote social interaction and design thinking, perhaps a more live environment that allows for a bit of noise is appropriate, so there’s no one size fits all, but there’s definitely an appropriate level of acoustic reverberation and background noise and noise ingress that promotes different types of work.

It’s interesting though, at my work place, I’m sitting on a floor, it’s an open-plan floor and we’ve got activity-based working so we never sit at the same desk twice. And on one side of the floor plate, we’ve got a yellow carpet and on the other side of the floor plate, we’ve got a dark grey carpet. I think that the levels of noise on the yellow carpet, from people talking and being engaged in conversation, is far higher than that on the dark grey carpet and I think we should put out a noise level on each side and see what it means. So, it’s not just the acoustic condition that changes people’s behaviour as well. The only other point that I would make is I also think it is usually important to not think that you have to stay in a building to have a conversation. If there is something that’s serious and difficult to talk about, often it is usually beneficial to go out and stand in the sun to talk about it. Or get yourself out of the building. Or conversely, it’s nice to go down to a café or a lunch to get the creative juices flowing. So, it’s not just the commercial environment that needs to be the one size fits all and that all of the conversations can happen in that building.

Oscar Trimboli:

As a professional listener, what advice would you give our audience on how to listen better to yourself so that you are prepared to listen to somebody else? How do you clear your mind when you’re going in to speak to a client or a colleague or with your manager, so that you’re completely present there for them for the dialogue?

Mitch Allen:

In preparation for listening and taking the internal monologue out, I think it’s very important to, in the first instance, be honest with yourself that there is one and understand or even personify that voice in your head in the same way that I might prepare for meditation. Being able to be aware of what is my voice or what’s going through my head and not necessarily judging it or saying that I need to get rid of it, but just being aware that it’s there, I think is the most powerful step in taking myself out of the listening process. And when I said taking myself out, I don’t want to say, all right, I’m going to clear my mind completely so that I can just focus on the person. I want to be able to focus on the person. If thoughts are coming into my head that are my own voice, just being aware of them is being my own voice and not confusing it with the message that I’m receiving from the person that I’m listening to.

Oscar Trimboli:

So there’s two levels of listening to yourself. There’s the preparation, which you described so beautifully. The second part is when you’re in the dialogue and you notice you’re not in the dialogue. So you, cut all your intention on the other person, the 125-400 rule tells us they can speak at a 125 words a minute, yet you can listen at 400 so there’s a natural inclination to drift off. What advice or hacks or tips would you give our audience about when you’ve noticed you’ve drifted or you noticed you’re in a dialogue with yourself or you noticed you’re somewhere else, you’re trying to solve the problem rather than listening completely to it, how do you check yourself and then bring yourself back into the conversation?

Mitch Allen:

There are couple of things that I would do in those situations and one would be, own up about it, not just keep it internal. So say, “Excuse me, I want to revisit this thing that I’ve just drifted off about.” And then by re-engaging with the person you are trying to give your attention to, you’re making that commitment to re-engage with them. The other obvious one is to actively try to feedback to the person that what you’ve heard is accurate and what you are understanding from them is commensurate with the message that they’re trying to convey. If you’re engaging in that way, and that’s the way you want to engage then being able to actually communicate and interact with the person that you’re listening to is usually important.

Oscar Trimboli:

Great insight! Make it external. If you’re on the receiving end as a listener, you can be really conscious of where you’re at. But we all act in the role as the speaker as well. Are there any clues you could provide to our audience about when to notice the opposite? And for the speaker to notice when the listener is drifting off, which may actually be a function of how you’re communicating rather than they’re listening.

Mitch Allen:

It’s an interesting one, because when you’re speaking, you can also get absorbed in listening to yourself or the message that you’re trying to convey without checking in with the other person as to whether they’re staying on the same page as you. Again, their interaction, I think, is quite important, and I think I’ve said it a few times in this interview, asking if something makes sense. Asking if I need to repeat something or if the language that I’m using is appropriate for what I’m trying to convey. Again, that interaction is quite important, I think. It’s also… I think I’m doing it.

Oscar Trimboli:

You are. Well done. You noticed…

Mitch Allen:

I think it’s all think it’s also easy to go off in a tangent and it’s again, calling it and making sure that the other person is on the same wavelength as you are. It’s important to maintain that communication.

Oscar Trimboli:

Mitch, just springing this to a close, you’ve referenced and made observations, but you haven’t fully given voice. One of the things I think you hold passionately is that listening is a full body experience rather than something you only do with your ears. Tell me how you embrace that personally.

Mitch Allen:

For me, sound has always been a big part of my life. And my that, I mean it’s actually how I would describe my experience to the world. By way of example, I went and saw a solar eclipse once, and I would describe it as a sound that I felt when the eclipse happened. Similarly, I lived in Bali for a while and they have a celebration of New Year’s called Nyepi, where on New Year’s day, after a celebration, they actually shut down the whole island, they shut the airport, nobody’s allowed out on the street, everybody is best to stay in their houses and they have people patrolling the streets to encourage people to stay in their houses and be very quiet. It’s almost a post-apocalyptic kind of environment and this thing that I noticed about that is very much the soundscape that goes along with that. And when I’m saying that, I don’t just mean it sounds different and that excites me, I mean that I experienced that with all of my senses and that total experience for me is represented by sound.

When I’m listening to something, I really feel like I’m immersing myself in an experience. Particularly if I close my eyes and I’m listening deeply to something, I feel like I can experience that thing with my whole being. With my whole body, with my everything. When I say listening with my whole body, I guess what I’m saying that’s how I describe a multi-sensory immersion in understanding something.

Oscar Trimboli:

Chinese scholars have taught us that ting, or to listen, is a six-dimensional process, only two of those are physical, their eyes and the ears, and you’ve described those other four dimensions about your presence and what it means and how you show respect through that process so beautifully. Mitch, thanks so much for your time and sharing your experience and your wisdom with the listeners.

Mitch Allen:

Thank you very much, Oscar.

Oscar Trimboli:

To be in the presence of someone who understands sound at a world-class level was truly a privilege for me to listen to Mitch today. Took me to some places that I haven’t been before. That I loved the way that Mitch talked about the fact that listening doesn’t need to be obvious. He talked about that when he said maybe you need to just go and have a conversation at a coffee shop, or go and have a conversation in the sun. Or maybe a quiet office is just as appropriate to create a productive listening environment. I love the way that he soundscaped in Sydney cove came full circle when the client created their own meaning, and ultimately what their brief probably was but weren’t able to articulate in creating the DNA of Sydney in the soundscape for the Vivid Festival of Lights. What a wonderful contrast to have all these amazing lights in the middle of the night time, and to be contrast with the sound of the cityscape and what that evokes in the future of the city.

Did you feel what was happening when that eclipse happened in Bali? The way that Mitch was able to draw that picture drew me in, but more importantly, helped me to understand how to listen as a full body experience. Thanks for listening.

Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words.

Podcast Episode 008: Listen like a foreign language interpreter – Learn the secrets stories of how deep listening and interpretation help with World War II in Poland from Christina Rostworowski da Costa

Christina Rostworowski da Costa is a professional interpreter and translator from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Christina translates Portuguese, English, French, and Italian. She has worked in boardrooms, meeting rooms, and a variety of venues as she helps translate meetings, deals, high-stakes negotiations, and even arbitration.

Today, Christina shares tips, tricks, and hacks on how to listen deeply and be empathetic without letting that cloud her interpretation of the words. She talks about breathing technique and being completely available to the conversation. The goal is to stay focused on the content and the person speaking. She also shares a story of poise and heroism about her grandmother who was a secret agent and translator in Poland during World War II.

Listen now

Tune in to learn

  • The difference between an interpreter and a translator.
  • How Christina was raised in a bilingual environment and switching languages was common.
  • Christina shares how her grandmother was a key interpreter helping the Allies in World War II Poland.
  • How Christina prepares and handles the pressure of interpreting for high-stakes corporate meetings.
  • Christina meditates every morning where she sits down and focuses and pictures the day ahead of her.
  • Examples of vocal exercises that Christina uses to warm up her voice.
  • Deep listening and synchronizing your breath with the speaker.
  • The silence of the interpretation booth and connecting to the speaker.
  • The challenge of dealing with jokes and curse words.
  • How it is key to establish initial contact with the speaker.
  • Taking on different tones and intonations for each speaker.
  • The differences between listening, understanding, and remembering.
  • Interpreters can’t be distracted and can’t waste their focus.
  • The four listening types: the lost listener, the shrewd listener, the interrupting listener, and the dramatic listener.

Links and resources

Want to create a big impact?

Subscribe to the Deep Listening podcast on your favourite service and never miss an episode.

If you have any suggestions, questions or recommendations for people to interview for podcast please email oscar@oscartrimboli.com

Transcription

 

Episode 008: Deep Listening with Christina Rostworowski 

 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Deep listening, Impact beyond words. 

Christina Rostworowski: 

As I listen to the person, it’s easier for me to understand the tone that is going to be used, the register. If the person breathes or not, and I actually try to get to know the person in one way or another, because, for some reason, I believe that that’s how I transfer a little bit of the person into me, and I get to be that person, and use the person’s voice. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

In this episode of Deep Listening, Impact Beyond words, I had the opportunity to spend some time with an interpreter from Sao Paulo in Brazil, Christina. She took us on a magical journey through her family history. Polish grandmother and her poise as she translated as a secret agent during World War II, and the importance of listening deeply and what that meant to the war efforts for the polish people and the allied forces. 

It was a fascinating insight and something I really wasn’t expecting. 

Christina spends her time as a professional interpreter and translator, which means she’s in board room situations, she’s in meeting rooms, she’s in auditoriums and conference centres, where she’s simultaneously translating from Portuguese to English, to Italian and French. 

She’s not doing all four of those languages at the same time, she’s good, but she’s not that good. And Christina talks us through some scenarios, where she has to dance with the dichotomy between being empathetic to who she’s listening to, but also translating and interpreting with no bias and no agenda, which she struggles with. She talks about the fact that fear comes into dialogue, then joy comes into dialogue, and yet, as an interpreter, they are only there to interpret the words, and how does she do that. 

She talks us through some really interesting hacks, tips and tricks about how to get about being a great listener. She talks about the role the breathing plays, she talks about the role of being completely available to the conversation and being focused on the content and the person, not yourself. 

In this episode, I think, you’ll learn to have right empathy for translators, and admire the skill, that Christina brings to the conversation. 

Let’s listen in. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Christina, joining us from Sao Paulo in Brazil. Thanks for sharing some time with us on the Deep Listening podcast.  

I’m curious, and so the audience, to talk about the difference, as you are, between an interpreter and a translator.  

Christina Rostworowski: 

Hi, Oscar, this is such a pleasure, and thank you for having me for this podcast. Translators have to work with written documents, whereas interpreters work with oral communications in general, right? 

So that’s the main difference between both areas. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Tell us where you were born, and the origins of your family history, and bring us up to date through that. 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Well, I was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and I come from a very mixed background. My mother’s family is originally from Poland, and they arrived in Brazil in the early ’50s, after World War II.  

And my father’s family is from Portugal and Spain, but already in like the fourth or fifth generation in Brazil, and, basically, I’ve lived my whole life in Brazil, in Sao Paulo, I did live a few months abroad, in Rome. But, because my family comes from Europe, and specifically from Poland, I was raised in a very multilingual environment, and actually, in my home we used to speak English and Portuguese all the time, so, interestingly enough, I was bought up in a bilingual environment, really. 

And then I went to an American school my whole life, because, when my grandmother arrived from Poland, she already spoke six or seven languages, if I’m not mistaken. And she started working for my school as a secretary, librarian, receptionist, PR… I mean, she took up all sorts of roles available at the time. And so, my mother actually went to the same American school as I did, and then I went to that school too, after which I studied history and… Here in Sao Paulo, in Brazil, at the university of Sao Paulo. I also have a master’s degree in history from the same university. 

My grandmother played a huge role in my life, and especially in my raising process, and I have one sister, but my parents got divorced when I was quite young. They both remarried, and so I grew up with all sorts of step-brothers and sisters, and… So, family dinners were quite packed full, to say the least.  

But, specifically, with my mother’s family, which has a more of a European background, that’s when the multilingual scenario, or intercultural scenario came about with more frequency. In the sense that from a very young age I had people speaking Polish around me.  

And then studying in an American school, English was also constantly spoken at home, and we were always switching back from one language to the other, and my mom, and my grandmother also speak French, and speak Italian and other languages, so switching back and forth from one language to the next was very common for me and for my family, or even at least just choosing one word or another in one language or another, and just resorting to whatever word sounded best for that specific feeling we were trying to express at the time, you know. 

So, I mean, to this day often times I catch myself talking to people, and then just randomly throwing in words in Portuguese or English, or French, or Italian, and it’s like people are, “What are you doing?”, you know? 

“Whoa, stop!”, because not everyone is picking up on which I’m saying, so … 

We always loved when my grandmother decided to share her stories, especially the war time stories, because… 

So, my grandmother… She passed away when she was 96, until like literally the last second of her life she was completely lucid, even though she had already broken her hips, and was… Her physical body was… Gone downhill very quickly, unfortunately, but her mind was perfect, and she was always sort of one of those very in control grandmothers, sort of very proper, very, sort of, keeping up with everything and everyone, despite her 95 years, and… 

So, growing up with her was amazing, because she decided to tell people these amazing stories from her times in Poland, and the war and whatnot.  

And… I mean, having her as a role model was just a lot to deal with, but in a very positive way, right? 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Which part of your grandmother, do you think, you bring to life every day? What qualities do you bring to your work? 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Well, definitely resourcefulness, and definitely… Thinking about deep listening, I mean… For me it’s… As far as you’re connected to an… Empathy, right?  

And my grandmother was very empathetic person. For me one of her greatest stories was… She decided to stay in Poland throughout the War, the rest of her family sort of just fled the country, and she decided to stay and join the resistance movement. 

And, because she knew so many languages, she was key in helping the allies in this process, especially of getting information across different areas in Warsaw at the time. 

So, for me, I always had this image of this very strong lady, and… Who, despite all hardships, and despite this scenario, risking her own life, she tried to do the best that she could, you know, for others around her. 

So, empathy and listening to others, and trying to get around with her language skills, always played a key role in her life, so, I guess, that’s what I try to live up to as well. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

And bringing yourself into your current profession as an interpreter, can you think of the recent scenario, where you caught yourself saying, “What would my grandmother have done in this situation?” 

Christina Rostworowski: 

That’s interesting. Let me see.  

As I was thinking of the meaning of deep listening and empathy, and what the roles interpreters should play, I was caught thinking about the fact that, in theory, an interpreter should always be very unbiased, and sort of be very proper.  

For the past few days I’ve been talking to people, completely random people, exactly the opposite about the opposite… You know, about… Even though I try to preserve the speaker’s tone, it’s really hard to be unbiased, and my grandmother would definitely have tried to be as poised, and as proper as possible, but for me that’s one of the difficulties I truly face. This is a real challenge for me, you know. Because, part of what I do has… As far as I’m concerned, is highly connected to actually managing to engage with the speaker, and understanding where the person comes from, and connecting in one way or another, so… 

Once I tap into the person’s feelings, it’s a hard task for me not to really sort of be biased, or sort of try to remain neutral, so… And definitely I would get scolded by my grandmother. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

What’s a typical day in the life of Christina as the interpreter? 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Firstly, I do work in small meetings, in like meeting context, you know, in which, perhaps, I don’t know… There are six or eight people discussing deals, or sort of trying to come to a common point on different matters. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

I think you are being a bit modest here, because you work with investment bankers, you work with lawyers, you work with big technology companies, and big brands in Brazil and all around the world, so… 

So, these are very important meetings, lots of pressure for the people in the room, let alone for you, so how do you do that physically? 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Physically you sit in the corner, because you have to be as far as you can from everyone else, so that people don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed because of the fact that you’re there. 

So, you have to be as quite as possible, definitely. I have a small booth, carry on kind of soundproof booth, that I put in front of me to isolate the sound.  

The people who are actually in the meeting, they are sort of disconnected from me as much as they can, of course, because I’m still gonna be there, and of course I’ll be talking, so there will be some sort of volume, or some sort of noise in the background, but I try to speak as low as possible, so that they don’t understand or hear me…  

And, because they will be… Technically, they will be wearing headsets, so, because they have these headsets on, they will be listening to me, but… Sort of directly into their ears, and not as a background noise. 

So, there’s a lot of pressure. In general, in the corporate scenario, people don’t really want to engage with you, as the interpreter, so that’s kind of the vibe that I have to send out as well, make myself as scarce as possible. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

And for that process, how do you actually prepare yourself mentally? 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Well, basically, what do I do before is… Of course, before the meeting or whatever job it may be, I study whatever material is available, which generally means presentations, pitches, or, just if that kind of material is not available, I try to look into Google any information I can about the person who’s speaking, or about the context of the meeting, about the companies involved and whatnot, right? 

And before I arrive, I always try to meditate and do a few vocal exercises, actually. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Okay, that’s important. So, explain, how long you would meditate for, because breathing’s critical in the role of deep thinking. 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Absolutely. I try to meditate on a daily basis, every morning, for at least 15 minutes or so. Like 15 minutes or half an hour, depending on how much time I have. And for me it’s just one moment that I just sit down in my room, and just focus, try to relax and understand the day that is ahead of me, and try to picture the day that is ahead of me, and the kind of environment I’m going to be in, and, in a way, to connect with the environment, but not to tap into this energy so much, as in… Not to be distracted by this energy, you know? 

And then I do some vocal exercises, basically to warm up my voice. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Let’s do one. 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Okay, just in general ma-ma-ma-ma, and then like brrrrrrrrrrr, practise the R’s and S’s, and T’s, because they are the hard ones to get, when you’re speaking very quickly, so it’s just like rrrrrrrrrrr, m-m-m-m-m. S-rrrrrrrrrrrr, s-rrrrrrrrr, s-rrrrrrrrrrrr. I’ve got all sorts of them that I do. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Yeah, have you ever not practised, how does that affect your performance, if you … 

Christina Rostworowski: 

No, that’s just…I can’t … 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Discipline’s important. 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Absolutely. It’s key. Not only because I want to set my mood, also because it’s that one moment that I get to sort of really connect to myself, and understand what I’m doing there. Also, for physical reasons, it’s… My profession is very hard on my throat, on my vocal cords, and so definitely that has to be a part of it. It’s just like… I mean, it’s just like you don’t start running a half marathon without practising beforehand, it’s the same kind of thing. 

You have to stretch before you start running on a day of any race, right? So, it’s just … On a physical level that’s super important, but for me it’s actually more important on the concentration, and I’m really sort of making myself fully available to the scenario that is about to happen. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Beautiful. Breathing to some people is considered physical, for others it’s not. What role does breathing play for you to centre you, to prepare you for listening and keep you listening? How conscious are you of your breathing? 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Breathing is absolutely essential. Part of my meditation routine… When I’m in the room, actually, when I’m about to start my interpreting, is to take at least 3 or 4 very deep, deep breaths, and I do sort of like the classic meditation routine, where it’s like you inhale for about 8 seconds, you hold your breath for another 8, exhale for another 8, and then wait another 8 seconds to breathe again.  

And I do that at least 3 or 4 times, because it’s super quick, and also sort of helps relax my muscles, relax my body, especially because if your shoulders are tense, or if your neck is tense, that also prevents you from allowing your voice to come out and to channel out more properly too. 

So, definitely breathing is key for me. 

Also, what usually happens, and this is where I really believe I’m not really unbiased when I’m interpreting, I really tune into what’s going on, I realise how, whenever I’m interpreting someone, I pick up on that person’s intonation and breathing, and end up breathing like the person. And I get really tired, and when I realise I’m getting tired, as the person takes the break, I manage to also take a break and take a deep, deep breath, and then sort of relax again, and actually sort of establish a more rhythmic breathing, and throw that into the process. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

So, you’ve role modelled beautifully, my research has proven, in 1992, that the deeper you listen the deeper you breathe, but also the deeper you breathe and synchronise with the speaker, the deeper you’re listening, so… And there’s lots of research to prove why you’re one of the better deeper listeners in the world.  

Help the audience understand what it sounds like to be in that soundproof booth in Sao Paulo for the meeting. 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Uh-huh. So, basically, in your … If you’re in a soundproof booth, what happens is there’s absolute silence. The only thing you hear in that room and that booth, in that space, are the sounds of your own breath, the switches, because you switch your microphone on and off, and, eventually, for me, I usually take my notes with me into the booth, so I can hear myself sort of shuffling the papers around, and that’s about it. 

And what you get is, of course, I’m wearing a headset too, and so I listen to the speaker directly into my ears. But the first image you get when enter the booth is you shut the door, so that’s the first sound, sort of the door shutting against you. 

And all you have are your own sounds, your own breath, and the speaker, whose voice is coming directly into your ears, and it’s just about connecting to that person, and understanding who that person is. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

And now for the audience, just say what you might have heard recently without divulging anything confidential, but in another language, so the audience can understand what happens for you. 

Christina Rostworowski: 

So, basically, one of the greatest challenges interpreters have is dealing with jokes and bad words per se. Because, of course you have to be … 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Unbiased. 

Christina Rostworowski: 

True to whatever … Exactly, you have to be unbiased, and you have to be true to what you just listened, right? 

And… So, I was recently at this conference, and one of the girls who… It was sort of like… There were three or four speakers, and one of these, this very young girl speaking, said she was super scared about the challenges ahead of her, and she was giving up on all sort of career related opportunities to focus on a project on social innovation… And again, this is… I was translating as part of a youth programme for social innovation- 

Oscar Trimboli: 

So, if you don’t mind, was that in Portuguese? 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Yes, that was in Portuguese. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Could you just say that… What you just said in Portuguese, so the audience can put themselves in your shoes? 

Christina Rostworowski:

[Portuguese 00:21:33] 

Oscar Trimboli: 

I think it’s important to pause, because what I’d love the audience to connect with is what was happening for you, while Christina was speaking in a different language. If you speak Portuguese, it would have been simple. So, for me, I was trying to listen for the motion in the voice, I was listening to pacing in the words, and how the language was being connected together, because I was trying to get that sense of fear that you were talking about earlier. 

So, when that happens… Your strongest language would be Portuguese, is that fair? 

Christina Rostworowski: 

I guess so, I guess Portuguese and English, both of them, because, as a child, for me, when my parents were talking to me, when I first started talking, I used to say words in Portuguese and in English at the same time in the same sentences, so, for instance, it was very common for me to say something like “[Portuguese 00:23:08], the yellow one, [Portuguese 00:23:11].” 

So, didn’t really matter. For me it was just all words, and I was trying them out randomly. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

I guess, put us then in your mind, when you’re going from Portuguese to English, or Portuguese to French, or Portuguese to Italian. How do you stay present in what’s being said, and how long is the pause between the time that you hear, and then you translate? Take our audience through that. 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Well, for me, establishing initial contact with a speaker before the person effectively speaks, is key. 

And what I do is I always introduce myself in the beginning, and I ask the person to introduce him or herself as well, and to tell me a little … To walk me through whatever the person is intend … Plans to say, and how long is the presentation going to take, if there will be room for questions and answers afterwards, and how …  

In short, to sort of like … Tell me what do they have planned, because I believe that when the speaker does that, it’s easier for me to understand and pick up on the vibe of how the person’s feeling, if the person has prepared in advance or not, whether the person is planning on using a presentation and just sticking to it, or actually just going with the flow.  

And also, what kind of issues the person is going to approach or not, and also, as I listen to the person, it’s easier for me to understand the tone that is going be used, the register, if the person breathes or not. And I actually try to get to know the person in one way or another, because, for some reason, I believe that that’s how I transfer a little bit of the person into me, and I get to be that person, and use the person’s voice and whatnot, right? 

And, interestingly enough, during this conference I was telling you about, which took place in the past 10 days, they are full time, with 15 different social entrepreneurs from Brazil, each of which had very different… Each of whom had very different projects, and very different social issues they were trying to tackle, what I heard from all the people there, who were listening to my translations, and my interpreting, was that I actually spoke and took up different intonations and accents, and words for each person who was speaking. 

And that was super interesting for me to hear, you know, because that’s… Again, coming back to the whole bias issue, and being neutral or not. Because this is such a huge issue for us interpreters. Jokes and words people choose also is something we have to pay attention to. And one of the guys actually came up to me, and as he was talking to this girl, and saying… Sharing their fears and talking about the hardships they have, and whatnot.  

She was mentioning how she was super young, and she was changing careers, and this is what she wanted to do with her life, and whatnot.  

And he comes up to them and said, “Listen, Brenda …” That’s her name, Brenda is her name, right? “[Portuguese 00:26:36].” Which is translated to English “You know what, Brenda, life is much like a bra, eventually you just have to throw your boobs onto it, or throw your boobs out of it and just get things done.”  

And having to translate that really quickly was also super funny for me, because she was… She had these super anxious… Or concerns and so on. She was sort of like “Oh my God, what am I going to do with my life.” 

And this guy just said “Listen, put yourself out there, doesn’t really matter, eventually you’ve got to face the challenges that come your way, and period,” you know. 

So, it was super funny to listen to this story, and to actually have to interpret it in real time, and I actually laughed in the middle of the sentence, I couldn’t not laugh at that, as it was going. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

For people out there, they are looking to improve their listening, that’s why they’re listening to this podcast. What can they learn from interpreters about listening? You’ve role modelled beautifully the role of breathing, and how important that is. You’ve role modelled how important it is not to be biased, not to make judgement, to actually listen fully and completely. 

What other tips and tricks do you think people can learn from interpreters to improve their listening? 

Christina Rostworowski:

When you’re interpreting, there’s a difference between listening, understanding and remembering, right? So, for listening … The technical part of listening, which is when you use your short-term memory, I’ve read that if you’re exercising for real, as in physical exercises, if you run, or if you train, do any kind of sports, they will definitely help improve your short-term memory, and, of course, your listening abilities. 

You can also do crosswords puzzles, all sorts of things that will help this technical aspect of listening. Because, as an interpreter, it is key to not … Please, quote and unquote when I say this, if you were here … If you could see me, you would see me doing air quotes, you know. Definitely, because you can’t waste time technically listening to things, when you are interpreting.  

In other words, you can’t be distracted by any noise, you can’t waste your focus or your attention on listening specifically, which sounds really weird as I say it, but it’s actually true. 

I’ve learnt in practise, actually as I was doing my job, that my good ear for listening purposes is my right ear. So, I always have to…If I’m not in a… If I’m not inside the soundproof booth, in a conference room, in an auditorium, whatever, if I’m doing a more… Like a group translation with 30 people, or 8 people in a room, or wherever it may be, I have to sit with my right ear turned to the speaker, because that … For some reason, that’s the one that listens best, and when I realised that, I’m like “Okay, that’s what I have to do here.”  

Because then I can use all the energy I have to actually focus on the person, focus on the speaker’s intonation, focus on the breathing, focus on the person’s body language and everything else, right? 

Which means I can actually use my time, attention and energy into understanding what the person is saying, what the person is not saying, the pauses that the person is choosing to make. 

And remembering all that, in order to express whatever, the person wants to say in this target language.  

And a lot of doing that has to do with not being myself, with engaging with this person to such extent that I can actually leave Christina’s outside, and focus on that.  

So, that’s why I believe meditating for me beforehand is key, because that’s how I get into my flow, and then I can easily detach from my daily concerns, my mind, my own thoughts and feelings, and can actually listen to that person in a place of empathy, really putting myself into the person’s shoes, and … 

So, when I connect to the person on a technical level of listening, that doesn’t take much of my time, attention and energy, you see. So that I can actually sort of preserve the person’s tone, preserve the person’s energy, preserve the person’s breathing process. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Fantastic. I’m curious which hand do you write with? 

Christina Rostworowski: 

My right hand.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Your right hand and your right ear, there you go. 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Yes.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

I wonder how many in the audiences are conscious of which one is their hearing ear? I actually do the same, it’s the same for me, right ear – right hand, but I have a fellow coach, who’s left-handed, and their hearing ear is their left ear. So, I think, when you’re conscious enough about your listening to understand, which ear listens the best, you’re really deeply listening. 

One of my favourite questions that I do work with, with my clients, Christina, is “What question should I’ve asked today, that I haven’t?” 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Actually… Let me see. I was very interested in hearing more about… Or listening more about the four of listening types. That was super interesting for me to read. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

So, let’s talk about the four listening types. So, there’s the lost listener, the shrewd listener, the interrupting listener, and the dramatic listener. Which one do you struggle with the most? 

Christina Rostworowski: 

For me, actually, it’s generally either the shrewd or the dramatic listener, because one is focused on the future, whereas the other seems to me to be focused on the past, right? 

So, one is anxious to see where you’re going, and the other one is trying to understand where are you coming from, and not even listening to you, right? Before you even get things through.  

But actually, what caught my attention the most, and what made me really start laughing, was interrupting listener, and I’ll tell you why. 

Because a lot of people come up to me at the end of conferences, meetings or whatnot, whenever I finish my job, and they often say that they were so impressed by how fast I speak, and that it’s practically real time, but like really real time, with the speakers. 

And so, they come up to me and say “It is unbelievable, it’s so hard for me to understand, how do you manage to sort of speak at the same time. It’s almost as if you’re guessing what the person is about to say,” because, with English and Portuguese specifically, adjectives and nouns go in different places, it’s the other way around. So, for instance, in Portuguese you generally say the adjectives after the nouns, or the adverbs after the verbs, and in English it’s obviously the other way around. In a sense that adverbs and adjectives come before verbs and nouns.  

So, a lot of what I do has, in fact… Related with trying to foresee what the person is about to say, for the context to come out, and the contents to really be true to what the person’s saying. And that’s all about the… Where the whole technical aspects of interpreting come about. In other words, studying beforehand, getting to know the person, the brief before the interpreting session, and whatnot. 

But I always tell people that, “Well, I’m glad that you think this is good, because in real life it’s necessarily so, because my brain works really fast, and I tend to be the interpreter all the time, to the extent that when I’m talking to people completely outside my professional career, and outside of my job and work environment, I’m always sort of thinking ahead, and I’m always sort of like foreseeing what people are about to say. 

So, in personal relationships that doesn’t really work. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

So, what happens is your profession defines you as a shrewd listener? So, you have to be good as a shrewd listener, and, I’d say, personally, in personal interactions, you are an interrupting listener, and that’s probably an overflow from your professional life. 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Definitely. And that’s what I try to work on, on a daily basis, trying to … Taking deep breaths all the time, you know. Just like breath, breath. It was awesome to read about them, the four types, and it was very interesting and clarifying in a lot of ways, so thank you for that as well. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

So, Christina, thank you so much for your time today. I wish you well, you’re being very generous with your time, your insights are extraordinary. Your skill is amazing, and I’m so delighted I’ve had an opportunity to listen to you. 

Christina Rostworowski: 

Thank you for everything, Oscar, it’s been a real pleasure, thank you for taking an interest in what I do, because it has given me the opportunity to reflect upon all these aspects of listening, you know. And especially one that has become just so keen to me, which is this whole idea of empathetic listening, of actually forgetting yourself and thinking about others more, when you’re listening to them. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

I’m so jealous of people who can speak more than one language, and I’m particularly envious of Christina.  

But today we saw amazing examples of the five levels of listening. The first level, listening to yourself, Christina has a disciplined practise around breathing, around meditation, and making sure she’s totally available to the conversation.  

Listening level two, listening to the content, and notice how Christina was saying she was using two parts of her mind to process short-term memory, and how words move through, and the words weren’t necessarily the most important thing in the dialogue. 

Listening level three is listening for context. And Christina talked about how she prepared to understand the context, and introduced herself to the speakers and the content, before she even showed up for her work as an interpreter. 

Listening level number four is listening to what’s unsaid, and making sure that you allow the speaker the opportunity to fully explore what they haven’t said. 125-400 rule says, “We speak at a 120 words a minute, but we can think it up to 400 words a minute”, so how do you help the speaker with what’s unsaid, while asking them what you should have asked. 

As I did today with Christina. I asked her what question I should have asked, and she had amazing light-bulb moment. I think you could visualise that light-bulb going on in her head as she spoke through it. 

And then, finally, is listening for meaning. And as we listened for meaning, you could hear the meaning that Christina’s grandmother had in her life, and then how important poise was for her, and the meaning she brought from that as well. 

Deep listening. Impact Beyond Words. 

Podcast Episode 007: Listen like a meditator – World class meditator and author of 37 books on the topic of resolving conflict Ken Cloke explores the 5 levels of listening

In this episode of Deep Listening we go through the forests of Idaho and the borderland between Canada and the United States as we speak to world class mediator Ken Cloke. He mediates across multiple domains from families, to schools, to corporations. Ken has been a mediator for 37 years, and he is a prolific author with 20 published books.

Ken takes us on a journey that describes the power and the transformational impact of listening for meaning. He finds a way to listen to himself first before listening to the meaning of the conflict. Ken shares how he meditates to prepare for conflict resolution, and how he is present for the meeting. He also shares how to avoid destructive circles and conflict resolution techniques as they apply to the five levels of listening.

Listen now

Tune in to learn

  • Listening inside yourself to understand the meaning of the conflict.
  • The two levels of mediation the issues and the relationships.
  • Approaching a conflict with the right attitude. Meditation is a great way to prepare.
  • Fully showing up with the realization that the conversation is important.
  • Diverting negativity from overwhelming the ego and changing statements to requests.
  • Ken shares an example of a couple’s experience and how he goes inside himself to find questions to get to answers.
  • How if there is not an equals sign between the heat of the argument and the topic of the argument there is an underlying meaning.
  • A touching story of how Ken discovered the root cause of an issue with a teacher conflict and found a way for the teacher to feel appreciated and keep her job.
  • Group communication and bringing the human dimension into the conversation and having a transformational impact.

Links and resources

Want to create a big impact?

Subscribe to the Deep Listening podcast on your favourite service and never miss an episode.

If you have any suggestions, questions or recommendations for people to interview for podcast please email oscar@oscartrimboli.com

Transcription


Episode 007: Deep Listening with Ken Cloke 

 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Deep Listening, Impact beyond words.  

Ken Cloke: 

In order to make room for empathy, for the ability to really listen to someone else, it’s necessary to create a kind of emptiness inside yourself, because if you’re filled to the brim, there isn’t much room for anything else.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

In this episode of Deep Listening, Impact beyond words, we go through the forests of Idaho, the borderland between Canada and the United States. We speak to world class mediator, Ken Cloak. He mediates across multiple domains, with families, in schools, as part of the legal process and also in working with corporations. A prolific author, his body of work spans over 20 books and his work has continued for 37 years. He takes us on a journey that describes the power and the transformational impact of listening for meaning. Listen for the story about the city that is struggling with a decision to fill up a river and put in a dam.  

Listen how Ken draws the two protagonists into a dialogue focused on the meaning and the transformational impact of that.  

Let’s listen to Ken. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

So Ken, when we think about listening through five levels, listen to yourself, listen to content, listen to context, listen to what’s unsaid and ultimately, listen for meaning, I’d love to have a chat to you today through the ones you feel most connected with and the ones you think you can impact the audience on. Is there a place you’d love to start with that? 

Ken Cloke: 

They’re all important. My work is mostly in conflict resolution, but in order to discover what the conflict means to someone, I have to find it inside myself, and if I haven’t listened correctly, I won’t be able to hear what they’re actually trying to tell me. Because they’re not giving direct instructions on how to get to the place where they’re miserable. The instructions are indirect, they’re metaphoric. They’re about the meaning of the things that have happened to them rather than the things themselves. So, it’s necessary to begin by listening inside yourself and then of course, ultimately what we are doing finally, is listening for the meaning of that event to the person who’s described it.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

How do you actually prepare yourself physically, mentally and with your presence to be able to listen to yourself first before you connect into the counter parties? Do you have a process that you go through yourself? 

Ken Cloke: 

Yes, I do. To begin with, I think it’s important to say that there are two levels that you can think of mediations as taking place on. First there is the level of the issues that people are presenting to you. But truthfully, that’s relatively simple and susceptible to technique. But in a deeper level, what happens is the mediation becomes the relationship and the conversation that takes place between the two of them with you being present. Meaning at some deep level, you are the technique. So, it’s necessary to prepare oneself to approach the conflict with the right attitude, if you will.  

The way that I personally do this is first of all, to meditate for an hour at least every morning. Then I try to find time to meditate just before going into the session, the mediation session. That is to centre myself inside myself, to close my eyes, to relax, to let go of everything that I can let go of, including whatever impressions I may have of the two of them. Whatever goals I may have for the conversation. Whatever the issues may have been that they presented to me. Because none of that matters until the conversation begins, at which point, it all gets redefined.  

What I then do is I simply become present when I greet them. I’m okay with their having conflict with each other, I’m actually quite optimistic about the possibility of our having a useful conversation about whatever it is that we’re doing. But if I instead enter with the idea of solving this problem, or fixing this conflict, making it go away, making it better, what will happen is that I will become invested myself in a kind of place where their conversation is stuck, a kind of knot in their conversation, in their relationship. I’ll get stuck there too. But if instead, I approach it in an exploratory fashion and realise that this conversation is so important that my life could change as a result of what I am about to hear. And if I show up fully with that realisation, then I listen differently, I hear different things, they say things differently. The listener helps to create the storyteller.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Ken, if we explore the second level, which is content, and you talked about the role of language there, something that tends to distinguish deep listeners from other is the lens they put on language. So, as you’re listening for language, whether that’s in written form or during the mediation process that you’re part of, what’s the lens you’re looking through for language? 

Ken Cloke: 

When two people are having an argument, often times, the very first word that they will use with each other is the word “you.” As in you did this, or you are such and such, or whatever it might happen to be. If we take a look at the word you, in connection with something negative, we can see first of all, the word “you” is a pronoun. And when it’s used in connection with something negative, the form of that pronoun is an accusation. In response to any accusation, the two automatic human responses, wherever you go on the globe are number one, denial, and number two, counter accusation. “No, I’m not.” “No, I didn’t,” and you did something else. The object of this is very, very simply, to divert the negativity and all of those negative emotions including the internal negative emotions of guilt from overwhelming the ego.  

The person, basically, is just saying, “I can’t handle this attack in any intelligent way.” So, what happens is the whole conversation begins to turn in a destructive circle. And as soon as the person hears it as a statement of fact, like for example, the phrases, “You always” or “You never,” their automatic response will be, “No, I don’t,” or “Yes, I do.” But that isn’t what we were trying to communicate. When we use the words “You always,” or “You never,” what we’re trying to communicate is I’m getting upset here. And this is happening too often for me. So really the two statements are number one, “This is happening too often for me,” and number two, “This is really ticking me off. I’m getting upset here and I’m going to attach and emotional marker to this communication by exaggerating how often you do it, and presenting that as a fact so that you will hear how upset I am and then begin to listen to me.” 

All of these statements really, are requests. They’re requests for listening. They’re requests for cooperation. The very first technique, I would say, in listening to conflict conversation is to realise that all of the things that people are saying to each other are presented as declarations, as statements of facts, but they’re actually requests for changes in behaviour. And if they’re presented that way, they become much more acceptable to the person on the other side.  

Ken Cloke: 

Here’s an example, and it’s an example that takes the whole thing even deeper than what I’ve described. A couple comes to see me and we spend a couple of hours together and it’s very useful, and they walk away and they feel good about the conversation we just had. So, they come back a week later and I say to them, “How has it been this last week?” And he says great, and she says, “Awful.” Well, awful trumps great so you can’t say what was great about it, you have to go instead and say, “Okay, what was awful?” She says, “Well, just this morning, as we’re leaving the house, he left his dirty dish in the sink.” And he rolls his eyes and go, has a huge sigh and says, “I can’t believe you’re bigging that up.” And she says, “Well, that’s just like you to pay no attention to what I want and to the things that I object to.” And now they’re off and running. So, the argument goes on and on.  

Here’s the basic situation. They’re getting in to this huge argument and the emotions are getting very hot, and the thing that they’re arguing about is a dirty dish in the sink. And those two things don’t match. If they don’t match, in other words, if you can’t make an equal sign between them, it means there’s something else other than just the dirty dish in the sink. And the other thing that there is is the meaning of the dirty dish in the sink. So, I say to her after they’ve argued a little bit, “What did it mean to you that he left his dirty dish in the sink?” She said, “It means he doesn’t respect me.” Okay, now that’s significantly more important. You can understand why somebody would get upset not so much about a dish, but about respect. But this even doesn’t go quite deep enough, because I can tell from their argument that this has touched a deep place inside of her. She’s really upset about this and he doesn’t get it. So, I say to her, “What does it mean to you that he doesn’t respect you.” And she says, “It means he doesn’t love me.” 

Okay, now we’ve got it. The dirty dish in the sink doesn’t just mean the dirty dish, it means he doesn’t respect her and because he doesn’t respect her, it means he must not love her. Now his mouth drops open because he can’t believe that we’ve gone from this dirty dish to the fact that he doesn’t love her. So, he’s kind of stunned and I turned to him and I say, “Is that, right? Is she right? Do you not love her?” The reason I say that is because she’s taken him to an existential place. A place which means everything for their relationship. Maybe he doesn’t love her. And maybe that is the truth, and that is what’s going on. But if that is the truth, I have to give him permission to say that because if I don’t, she won’t believe what his answer is. So, I say, “Is that true?” And he says, “No, it isn’t true.” So, I say, “Tell her whether you love her or not.” He turns to her and he says, “I do love you and I do respect you, and I’m sorry about the dirty dish in the sink.” So now he’s apologising for what happened.  

But even this isn’t quite so simple. Because this is a relationship. And in every conflict and in every communication, it goes in both directions. So, there’s a piece for her in this. And I have to figure out now what is the piece for her? And I find this, of course, through exercising empathy. I go inside myself and I ask myself why would I get so upset about a dirty dish in a sink? And I come back with a question based on what I come up with inside myself and my question is this: “What is going to happen to the dirty dish in the sink? Sooner or later, what’s going to happen?” And she says, “I’m going to wash it.” I say, “Why?” She says, “Because that’s what I’m supposed to do. That’s my role, is to keep the house clean and to wash those dishes,” and I said, “Who says?” And she says, “I say.” I said, “Where did that message come from?”  

And now we’re beginning to see that the reason that she feels he doesn’t respect her, is not just because there’s a dirty dish in the sink but because placing it there means she has to wash it. And that’s an assumption that she has made herself. It’s an expectation of herself. That comes from her mother, and her mother’s mother and her mother’s mother before her. And it’s something that has not been negotiated, has not even been discussed between the two of them. So, I turned to him and I say, “Are there things like that for you that you believe are your responsibility, that you’re supposed to take care of?” He says, “Yeah.” Now he can see the picture, finally. And taking care of the yard, fixing things around the house. And I say, “Do you ever feel that she doesn’t respect you sometimes when she doesn’t handle those things correctly? When she creates more work for you?” Now he gets it. “What is one thing she could do that would make your work easier for you?”  

Then I turned to her and I say, “What is one thing he could do that would make your work easier for you?” Now they’re beginning to talk and they reach agreements with each other, then they have to actually of course, fulfil those agreements. But because it’s mutual, because it isn’t just him who screwed up, because it goes deeper than that, and it really opens up a place in their relationship that is on the one hand fundamental, and on the other hand, not being spoken about. Why? Because it means too much to each of them. Because it’s so deeply connected. Because it manifests itself in small things but in itself is not a small thing. It’s a huge thing. It has to do with identity. With self-image, with expectations. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Do you have another example in those environmental or corporate examples? 

Ken Cloke: 

I did a mediation involving a school teacher who had been the head of the teachers’ union for over 20 years and then had gone back into the classroom as an ordinary teacher. As soon as she went back into the classroom, there began to be problems. Difficulties between her and the kids, lots of yelling at the kids, lots of yelling at her co-workers, other teachers who she had represented for all those years, and those got significantly worse and she began to use not just your average swear words, but your world-class swear words in the presence of the children against her co-workers. So, the principal called me and said, “I’m going to have to fire this woman but I’ve worked with her for all these years and I’m hoping that mediation can do something to allow her to keep her job.”  

So, we met together and with her and three other teachers who she’d yelled at in front of the kids and used a lot of profanity. They began to describe what happened and after each description, she said, “No, no, that wasn’t the case. That wasn’t the way it happened. They were the ones who triggered it, they were the ones whose fault it was.” And I sat there listening to this, thinking there’s no way that we’re going to have a useful conversation if this is just accusation and defence. So again, I went inside myself and tried to find the her inside of me and see what would be going on for me. What would have led me to feel this way and to be so angry in this circumstance.  

As she was being defensive and describing all of this, I interrupted her in the middle of a sentence and I said, “Excuse me, can I stop you and ask you a question?” She said yes and I said, “Has anyone ever thanked you for what you have done for this school?” And she just burst into tears sobbing uncontrollably, and nobody had ever seen her blink over 20 years. She was the tough one, the negotiator for the union and now here she was, just sobbing completely uncontrollably. As soon as she did that, the other teachers who were there to accuse her were completely shocked. I said, “Okay, we’re going to stop describing the things that she did that were wrong, and instead, I’d like to ask each of the three of you to tell her personally something that she has done for the school that’s made a difference to you and your life, or made a difference to you in terms of your ability to be a teacher.” And they began describing these things, and now they’re all crying. 

She immediately admits a hundred percent every single allegation, every accusation, every single thing. She says, “Yes, I did it. I’m so sorry. It’s my fault and I shouldn’t have done it.” The other teachers, hearing this, say, “This isn’t entirely your fault. After over 20 years outside the classroom, you came back to become a teacher and of course, you weren’t prepared to handle this and we weren’t there to support you the way that you had been there to support us before. This is partly our fault because we should have come in and helped you.” So, I say to her, “Does this do it for you? Is this over?” She says, “No.” And I’m immediately worried that maybe we’ve left something out. And she says, “I need to now go to the other teachers and to the parents and the students and apologise for what I did.” The other teachers say, “We’re going with you. And instead of you’re just apologising, let’s talk about what we’ve all learned from this conflict about how we can work together better to make sure that kids get a good education and that we support each other.”  

The next thing that they did was they asked the principal to have a staff meeting where everybody showed up and nobody was grading papers and nobody was sleeping. It was the most intense conversation they had ever had. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Is there a story you think that would serve our audience about mediation in a corporate context for some work you’ve done that demonstrates how groups need to listen to each other rather than merely individuals?  

Ken Cloke: 

I was working in a medium-sized city in Arkansas. Members of the city council and the city attorney had called and said, “We’ve got this horrible problem here. Can you come and help?” There’s a dam in the city and the environmental groups want the dam taken down and the city council wants the dam remaining. The environmental groups want a river and the city council people and the corporate world wants the dam because it provides electricity and jobs and a whole series of other things. So, everybody had their reasons for this. We came in and we trained members of the city council, whole bunch of city staff and leaders of the environmental organisations in dialogue techniques. They all got trained in the same techniques. The next day after the training, they had a dialogue about the dam and they had great discussions in the small groups about them.  

But the main discussion that I want to mention was one that took place in one of the small groups where the main leader on the city council who favoured the dam was present, and the main leader of the environmental groups that were opposed to the dam was also present. The guy who is opposed to the dam, because of the training, turned to the member of the city council who favoured the dam and said, “I don’t get it. What does this dam mean to you? Why is this so important to you?” He said, “Well, I’ll tell you. My father and I used to go fishing on the dam. I loved that time with my dad. And I go with my son and I loved the time with my son and I’d like to make it possible for future generations to have that.” And the guy who is the head of the environmental organisation said, “Well, that’s really interesting because my dad and I used to fish on the river. And my son and I fish on the river now and I really love those times too and I want to make it possible for people to fish on the river.” So, what they came up with was a plan where they can have both. But neither one of them had listened to the other one before this.  

That’s an example of how bringing the human dimension into the conversation, being human, being real, being authentic, talking about what things mean to you can have a deeply transformational impact.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

What a beautiful note to finish on and that summarises so well the impact of listening at level 5. Listening for meaning. Because it’s in meaning that we transform the understanding, the dialogue and the impact, not just for the individuals, but in this case, for everybody in the community. Ken, thank you so much for taking us on a marvellous adventure through the mountains of Idaho.  

Ken Cloke: 

Thank you very much, Oscar. I appreciate it and I appreciate all the work you’re doing to promote this idea. Thank you to all your listeners for tuning in. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Did you enjoy listening to the sounds of the Idaho woods as much as I did? Did you notice the cat in the background? Did you hear the creaking of the chair on the wooden floor board while Ken was talking? If you were listening on a different level, you might have heard that. But the level that was most powerful for me was how Ken showed three very distinct examples of listening for meaning and what that creates. How much of your day are you spending listening for meaning? And how much of your day are you thanking others for what they do? Because it was in the story of the union leader returning to work as a teacher in the classroom, that the very simple exploration of what’s unsaid or level 4 listening was highlighted by Ken. I’ll look forward to joining you in our next episode where we listen for something completely different. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Deep listening. Impact beyond words. 

Podcast Episode 006: Jodee Mundy Creative Director explains what the deaf community can teach the non deaf community about listening and exploring why the deaf community are the best listeners

My guest today is Jodee Mundy an independent Creative Producer and Artistic Director. Jodee’s work points to a future beyond inclusion where the diversity is as valuable as the art. She also grew up as the only hearing person in a deaf family.

Jodee knew her family was deaf, but she didn’t realize that they couldn’t hear until an incident when she got lost in a local store. Jodee brings a unique perspective about what the deaf community can teach the non-deaf community about listening. We also explore why the deaf community are actually better listeners.

Listen now

Tune in to learn

  • Jodee was born into a deaf family. She is the only one who can hear.
  • Jodee didn’t realize her family was deaf until she got lost in Kmart as a child.
  • She grew up in the culture of signing and lights flashing.
  • Becoming an interpreter and blending into the environment.
  • Adding, subtracting, and substituting information in Auslan.
  • Interpreting for the Dalai Lama.
  • Listening with your whole mind and body.
  • How the deaf community is completely welcoming to everyone who can sign.
  • How deaf people are great at charades, and they are not defined by language.
  • The power of silence and speaking with our eyes.
  • The extraordinary capacity of humans to communicate.

Links and resources

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Subscribe to the Deep Listening podcast on your favourite service and never miss an episode.

If you have any suggestions, questions or recommendations for people to interview for podcast please email oscar@oscartrimboli.com

Transcription

 

Episode 006: Deep Listening with Jodee Mundy 

 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Deep listening, impact beyond words. 

Jodee Mundy: 

When you know you talk to a blind friend or deaf friends, the worlds that they live in is so much expertise and knowledge on how to navigate the world. Whether that’s through Haptic or signing, and it’s such a shame because there’s so much knowledge that people who see and hear could use to actually be better listeners.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Deep listening, how to have an impact beyond words. In this episode, I have the opportunity to work with a cultural bridge. With Jodee who works, creates beautiful spaces between people who can listen, and those people who are deaf. The culture of listening in the deaf community is something we can all learn from, and I’m delighted to invite Jodee into our space today to talk about that and many other things. 

Hi Jodee! 

Jodee Mundy: 

Hi, thanks for having me. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

It’s a pleasure. We always begin at the beginning, and we’d love to hear the story of where your life began. 

Jodee Mundy: 

Yeah, sure. So, I was born in 1978 in Melbourne, and born to a family where everyone is deaf. So, my mom, and my dad, and my two brothers are deaf, and I’m the youngest. So, we grew up using Auslan, Australian signing we do at home. But I’m the only one in the family that can hear. But I didn’t know that they were deaf until I got lost in K-Mart at about five years old.  

So, I was looking at the Barbie dolls, and my mom said come on let’s go, and suddenly I looked up and she was gone. So, I ran to the front desk and I said, “Excuse me, I’ve lost my mum.” And the lady leaned into the microphone and she said, “Jillian Mundy your daughter is waiting, your daughter Jodee is waiting for you.” And I sat on the bench, and I waited, and I waited. Then suddenly I saw mum coming through the clothes racks passing the red-light special. And she was signing at me, “Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you?” And I said, “The lady has made an announcement.” And my mum she looked at me and signed, “I’m deaf, you know that.” And I looked at her, and it just dawned on me that my whole family was deaf, and I wasn’t. 

Now the thing is, is that, I knew that they were deaf, but I didn’t know it meant that they could not hear. There two very different things for me. For me, the deaf community, the community and culture that I grew up in is the culture of signing, the culture of eye contact. The culture of lights flashing when the phone rings, or you know banging on the table to get someone’s attention. That to me is my culture. To not hear is something else. Deaf people perceive in our society the disability. They can’t do things, they wear hearing aids. All of the deficit, the disability model is not where I come from.  

So, when I grew up… as you know growing up for me I was the interpreter for the family, and culture broker. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

I’m curious as you play the role of interpreter, how do you actually prepare yourself for the moment when you translate? 

Jodee Mundy: 

Okay so, I have trained as an interpreter. I have been an interpreter for 20 years.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative) 

Jodee Mundy: 

Semi-retired now, cause I work in another field. I’ve interpreted for many, many different settings. So, you can, one day you’re in a courtroom. The next you’re in a medical setting, you’re at a funeral, you’re interpreting for Julia Gillard, the Dalai Llama, Noam Chomsky, BBC News. So, I’ve worked on quite a broad area of interpreting. And it could be you telling someone that they only have a week to live, to you’re on a stage doing the Lion King. So, it’s the kind of job where you have to blend in to your environment. 

Now the thing is, when you’re interpreting, you’re working from a source message. So, you have your source message, and you have to change that from the first language into the target language. So, it could be I’m listening in English, a message that then has to go to Auslan, and then you have to watch the Auslan to change it back into English. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative) 

Jodee Mundy: 

Now there’s a few techniques, when you get a message you can; add to that message, you can subtract information from that message, you can substitute information, or you can omit information. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative) 

Jodee Mundy: 

While you’re delivering that, you’re listening to the next one coming in. Because it’s a three-dimensional language, it’s not linear. So, when we speak it’s word by word. You utter sounds to make sense. Whereas in sign, you use your face and to articulate it to your hands. So, you’re continually creating… it’s like an incredibly dense comic strip where you can use aerial perspective, long shots, close-ups, in terms of telling a story. And then you can convey multiple ideas at the same time. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Yeah. 

Jodee Mundy: 

And there’s so many other factors. Like when I interpreted for the Dalai Llama on stage, he’s got quite a strong accent so you also have to concentrate to cut through your own challenges. Like you just have to keep listening to try and understand what he’s saying for example. With someone like the Dalai Llama who is an extraordinary man, you want to do him justice. So, you have to listen with every pore of your body to get that information across to somebody else. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

During those extended periods of time of listening, and sometimes you get distracted. How do you keep yourself on track during that process? 

Jodee Mundy: 

I think I take a lot of deep breaths. You just breathe, and do the best you can. In a way, you become more like a vessel I suppose, rather than just listening through your ear and your mind. It’s like, how do you as a whole being… cause you can listen through your ears, but it’s also with your heart. From behind, from you know around your back. You know, our bodies don’t just end at our fingertips, there’s a whole space around us, and we are all connected. So, you just have to drop into that, I think. Yeah, get out of your own way. Yeah, and breathe. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Yeah. In Chinese traditions ting means to listen, and it’s drawn as a six-dimensional character set. Hearing, and seeing are only two dimensions of the six, and respect, and focus, and using your heart are other elements of that. Which you role modelled so beautifully when talking to how you have to be totally present with your entire body. I’m curious if you’re signing in a group of the deaf community, and others that can hear, what do you think deaf people do better than others when it comes to socialising the process of listening? 

Jodee Mundy: 

So, when you go to a party and everyone signs, you can see what everyone is saying. So, it’s not like when you go to a party where, let’s call it the hearing world. And you go to a party where everyone hears, people are in groups, huddled. I find that people can be quite exclusive. Like even though I make friends easily, you know, if you don’t know that many people it takes awhile until someone might introduce you. There are of course great parties if the host is fantastic, they will introduce you. But generally, I find you kind of have to go, “Hi.” And it’s a bit awkward, and you kind of go, “What do you do?” And you know with the deaf community it’s not like that at all. Because I guess it’s a community and a minority. But if you don’t know people the fact that you sign and you come in. If there’s a circle you come in and go, “Hey,” and you just sign. People will straight away open up, and go, “Hi, what’s your name.” And you go around, and everyone just introduces themselves and then we’re actually talking about this. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative) 

Jodee Mundy: 

Everyone is included at all times. Now another thing is, if you’re signing and you look away you’re not listening. Cause you can’t see what that person’s saying to you. Whereas people who hear will look around the room, they’ll chat. And something I find really fascinating is that when people who hear have an argument, let’s say, and when deaf people have an argument or people who sign. When you sign in an argument it’s a different thing. When deaf people argue or when people who sign argue, you look away. You don’t want to look at that person. Whereas people who hear, when they argue will probably look at each other more in the eye than they ever do. So, I find it interesting there’s actually opposites in the languages of speaking and signing, and how you connect whether it’s just a chat or standing in a social situation or there’s a conflict. There’s different levels of intensity. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Is there anything else you think the deaf community can teach us? 

Jodee Mundy: 

I think yes, whenever… You know like I said when my parents are travelling or if I travel, I don’t worry about using English. And you know I try to speak some of the local language wherever I am. But, there’s so much you can communicate just with your body. Deaf people are great at Charades, just saying. I would smash you at Charades. A much bigger thing to share is the deaf community is transnational community. It’s not a community defined by borders or geography. The language comes from being able to see and being visual. So, wherever you go around the world, wherever you meet deaf people. Even though the sign languages are different, the sign language isn’t international. They’re different in every country but the grammar is the same. 

Now that’s in a language aspect. If I’m just hanging out with people or deaf people are hanging out with people who hear, and we can read body language really, really well. We’re able to, even when someone’s talking to me and they’re like, “Oh, what’s that word? I can’t remember that word.” You can see with their hands, pretty much you can go, you can work out something that they’re saying. Cause people who speak but don’t sign, naturally gesture. Like you will gesture and sometimes your hands will say what you can’t in that moment. So yeah, deaf people are very acute to being able to pick up what people are trying to say. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

So, thinking about the body language example you provided, for those you can hear, what tips would you give them to listen beyond the words? 

Jodee Mundy: 

I think remember the power of your eyes, your eyes can really speak so much. The power of silence is your best friend. I think people speak a lot, like what they say isn’t just everything. I think giving people the space in silence is allowing people to open up more, and not feel like you have to talk all the time. Knowing what you can do with your hands can say a lot as well. Especially in public speaking as we know the power of hands and gestures. A big thing, also you know, we say that we have the five senses, or the six that you said, the ting that you mentioned, which is a beautiful thing. I would argue that it’s not that we have five senses. I would say that we all have one sense, but these are our windows. And we’re all connected, and yes, we’re all different in the way we see, or hear, or taste, or smell, or our cultures, or how we’re fluid in sexuality, or gender, you know. We’re all so different in our makeup but we’re generally all one big sense connected to our universe.  

Now for me, my other job is I’m a creative director, so I create large scale shows, and rituals with people of all different sort of backgrounds. I just had a big show at Sydney festival where, it was called Imagined Touch, and the two performers were deaf and blind. So, they don’t see or hear, and this whole work is about entering into space, and seeing them perform. Their names are Heather Lawson, and Michelle Stevens. And audiences are given headsets and goggles, and go into an immersive space where their eyesight and hearing starts to deteriorate. It’s not a simulation, it’s a metaphor. And Heather and Michelle take the audience members on a tactile communication experience, so they talk to you through touch. 

All of those things that the eyes use to judge or scan people disappear, and you’re essentially listening through touch.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

What do you think those audience members take away in terms of understanding listening on a different level? 

Jodee Mundy: 

It’s about the elimination of other worlds humans live in. The depth of who we are as humans and our extraordinary capacity to communicate. It’s not just disability but it’s actually our capacity as humans, and there’s so much expertise that’s untapped. When, you know, you talk to blind friends or deaf friends, the worlds that the live in is so much expertise and knowledge on how to navigate the world. Whether that’s through Haptic or signing and it’s such a shame because there’s so much knowledge that people who see and hear could use to actually be better listeners. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

We’ll just change speed now. Most people ask you to listen, but what they crave is to be heard. When have you noticed a time where you’ve been heard, or you’ll have heard somebody and they feel noticed and seen? 

Jodee Mundy: 

Look, you know I got my nails done yesterday, what I hate is when you get your nails done it’s often in these nail bars. And often all the women are from Vietnam, okay. And they come to Australia for two years to learn English, and then they go back. So, every time I go to a nail bar, I see these women, and every woman that I’ve sat with has been too shy to talk because they feel their English isn’t good enough.  

And so, last night, I was sitting there, and she was doing my nails, and she hadn’t said her name, and I hadn’t said my name. It’s not usual practise to introduce yourself. But, I usually sit down and go, “Hi! What’s your name?” Cause you know this woman’s holding my hand. It’s like, and again it’s that thing of like touch. It’s like well what’s your name, this is my name and we chat, and she’ll go back to doing my nails. I’ll just say, “So how was your day?” And she’ll tell me, “Oh, it was okay.” But I can, I saw that she was quite awkward and not wanting to talk because she was embarrassed.  

So, for me, I just keep talking cause you know, she’s doing my nails. I don’t want to just sit there and ignore her, like all those people do. So, we got chatting and she was telling me where she was from. She was near Hanoi, and I asked her about, you know, I told her I thought I heard there was really beautiful things. Where do you live, I live near  St Kilda I live here. And look, it was a very simple conversation. 

But she said to me, “You know not many customers talk to me, and I wished they did because my English would probably be better.” I was like, “Well why don’t you talk?” And she’s like, “Well I’m too embarrassed to tell people, my English isn’t very good.” And it’s like, yeah but honey you’re holding this woman’s hand. You’re doing their nails. You’ve got every right to chat. You know don’t be shy, it’s a random example but for me in those moments when you are sitting with someone. Whether it’s a taxi driver, or those moments that are quite intimate, and were so attuned to shutting down or switching off or looking at our phone. I tend to, if I see that person wanting to connect, but maybe not too confident then I go out of my way to make that connection and for them to be seen. Because in the end she was really like, “Thank you, I had a really nice chat with you. I’m gonna do it again. I’m gonna make sure I’m gonna be more confident.” It’s like yeah you can do it sister, you know, it’s all good. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Jodee I can see why you’re an extraordinary bridge builder between cultures, between capabilities, and I can see that there’s a common purpose driving all your conversations, that we’re all connected. And it’s great to listen to that meaning come out in the patterns and the context of our conversation today. And I would say thank you, Namaste. The extraordinary capability that you have both as a translator, but also an educator is making a difference, and making an impact beyond words. Thank you. 

Jodee Mundy: 

Thank you, and I just owe that to my family. So again, it all goes back to the community I come from. So yeah, thank you. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

I hope you felt the same energy I did coming through the headphones with Jodie. Such passion, such poise, such an ability to communicate the power of Auslan as a three-dimensional language. And how it augments listening, and is a skill that those of us who can hear, would be better off by learning a few simple examples of how to sign. 

The biggest thing that I took away from the conversation was how to look at body language, and how facing somebody straight on with no distractions, no laptops, no mobile phones, no barriers in between you. Is by far the most powerful way to create a deep listening dialogue with those you’re interacting with. What commitment will you make to avoid distractions, and face the person that you are speaking to so you can listen more deeply. 

I’d love you to take a challenge for the next week, so that when you walk into a dialogue with somebody there’s no laptop, and there’s no mobile phone present. Give it a try. Guaranteed it will transform your listening to become more impactful. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Deep listening, Impact beyond words. 

Podcast Episode 005: Michael Henderson Corporate Anthropologist outlines why most employee engagement surveys are question biased rather than listening biased

There is a huge amount of money being invested in engagement surveys. Are these surveys effective? Is there a way to make them more effective? My guest today shares lessons learned from other cultures that could improve the entire communication and listening process.

Today, I am speaking to corporate anthropologist Michael Henderson as we explore the jungles of Africa, South America and the boardroom. Michael brings a perspective of listening to cultures. He  shares the role of engagement surveys and how they are question biased rather than listening biased. He also shares lessons learned from the Pygmy people and the three key elements for building a powerful culture.

Listen now

Tune in to learn

  • Why employee engagement surveys are question biased.
  • Applying skillsets from anthropology into the business world.
  • How the Pygmy people compare culture to a fire.
  • The role of culture inside businesses and being a beacon in the dark.
  • The importance of having three elements throughout cultures.
  • Understanding what is actually meant not what is just said.
  • Patterns and listening to context within corporations and listening to adjectives.
  • Being conscious and listening deeply when people are speaking.

Links and resources

Want to create a big impact?

Subscribe to the Deep Listening podcast on your favourite service and never miss an episode.

If you have any suggestions, questions or recommendations for people to interview for podcast please email oscar@oscartrimboli.com

Transcription

 

Episode 005: Deep Listening with Michael Henderson

 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Deep Listening. Impact beyond words.

Michael Henderson:      

He took a long pause and then said, “Ah, so culture’s like the fire.” It is, lights the way. It warms the heart, and it keeps at bay the unwanted. And up to this day, I think I’ve never heard a better description in some respects of what culture is actually all about.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Welcome to Deep Listening, impact beyond words. In this episode, we have the opportunity to speak to a corporate anthropologist, Michael Henderson. We get to explore the jungles of Africa, and South America and the jungles that are the boardrooms inside Australia, New Zealand, and the western world. Michael brings a perspective of listening to cultures. I love the way he talks to the role of engagement surveys and the fact that they’re probably wasted money if the surveys aren’t designed by the very people who are filling them in. Listen carefully how he teaches us from the pygmy people the 3K elements of building a powerful culture and listen carefully as you hear the wood crackling in the camp fire when Michael’s talking to the chief. Let’s listen to Michael.

Oscar Trimboli: 

A horrendous amount of money gets invested in these things called engagement surveys and listening tools. Could you talk through the difference between listening and being heard at a systemic level for all employees and what they can learn from ancient cultures?

Michael Henderson:      

Yeah. The big difference, and I couldn’t agree with you more as you’ve kind of hit on one of my hobby horses is I’ve got a real concern about how organisations are using engagement surveys and often surveys in general. There’s nothing wrong with surveys per se, but I think you need to be very, very aware of the context in which the questions are being asked. For example, if you sit around a fire in a traditional culture, the questions that are used around that fire to entertain or to inform or to educate or simply just to connect and share, are always contextual to the people who are asking the questions are in the culture already, and so they are often able to select even the right phrasing of the question to elicit the response that they’re looking for. Whereas you find with the organisational surveys and engagement surveys, the questions are usually generic, not customised. They’re used to design to measuring comparison to other cultures, which anthropologically speaking, is bordering on insane. Because you can’t compare one culture with another in terms of metrics so it seems really bizarre process to go through.

What are the chance of happening is I think the surveys are question-biased rather than listening optimised. What I mean by that is there’s far more emphasis placed on defending or justifying the questions that are being asked, rather than actually really listening to the answers. Let me give you a very practical kind of example. One of the things I’ve notice of the sentence, fairly recently at a conference I was speaking at, the HR manager went on stage just sort of 15 minutes before I was speaking, and sort of said, “Look everybody, I just want to remind you,” and this is a fairly large audience, sort of 800 to 900 people. The HR manager said, “I just want to remind you all that we’ve got the engagement survey coming out next Thursday. It’s really, really important that you all complete the survey so we get an up to date picture of how you’re all feeling about the business and make it a comparison to how we were last year, and also how we’re comparing in the industry. Just reminding you all to do that,” and walked off stage.

Because I was sitting off stage to sort of stage right, I was able to watch the audience’ response to her reminder about the engagement survey and what was fascinating was, and I hope I’m not exaggerating here, I would say over half of the audience rolled their eyes or gave some sort of facial expression that was less than enthusiastic or demonstrating less than full commitment and passion to do the survey. So, I thought, well there you are. You got your survey straight in front of you. About 50 percent of the audience has just demonstrated they’re disengaged by the word engagement survey.

The big thing about the difference between the tribal setting or traditional cultural setting, and to be honest, it doesn’t even need to be traditional tribal, it can be your own family, is that engagement surveys are in the moment. There occurring in constant dialogue and if you’re listening to people’s expressions and their metaphors and their analogies, they’re actually telling you right here and right now whether they’re engaged or not, and more particularly, what are they engaged about.

My final piece on this is I think the world’s best engagement survey would be designed by the employees themselves. I think, in empowering people to ask and design and develop the questions that they want to be asked about the culture would be far more empowering, useful and provide a far deeper listening for the organisation itself to hear what’s really on people’s minds rather than restricting in to what you’ve got in your questions to ask them.

Oscar Trimboli:

Asking people who are part of the culture to design their own surveys, what are great example of deep listening. Michael, you call yourself a corporate anthropologist but where does that journey start?

Michael Henderson:

It starts with the anthropology usually before the corporate and will just explain two words separately, corporate obviously is big business and its many different forms, anthropology is the study of its human culture and it’s a fairly large field of social science that includes everything from musical anthropology to symbology to believe in ritual such become a complex web of understanding and studying human culture. When you put the two together, corporate anthropology is literally taking the skill sets or the perceptions and perspectives from anthropology and applying it into the business world to identify areas and opportunities where organisations can have a better sense of awareness or better sense of anticipation or better opportunity to apply and inspire the workplace cultures that they’re creating inside their organisations.

So, I spend time in Africa and South America and observing and participating around traditional cultures but largely traditional cultures that were the interface of corporate culture or tourism or commercialism. Trying to see where traditional cultures were being impinged, threatened or even just connected to outside cultures and see what the response mechanism was. And that served me really, really well because it enabled me to start to prepare, although I didn’t realise that was what would be coming decades later, but enabled me to start to really understand what is very popular in the marketplace at the moment, is this whole concern around organisations talking about destruction in the marketplace.

Oscar Trimboli:

Have you got a really powerful example from South America or Africa that kind of stands out for you back 30 years ago?

Michael Henderson:

Yeah. There’s one story I tell a lot. It was very privileged. I’ve had some time with the Twa people who you probably know better as the pygmy in Uganda, in Central Africa or in the jungle. I had the opportunity to be invited to sit around the fire one night which I wasn’t aware of at the time. But it’s a great privilege to be invited to sit next to the chief around the fire. It’s just you and him with a sort of separate fire and everyone else gathers around another fire. He just talked around my work and what I was doing, so he was really curious and interested in how I was even here, why I was interested in the tribe, et cetera. Between the two of us, we were attempting to find a common understanding of this kind of concept of culture, which is key to my work and yet in their world, that didn’t really kind of have a word that even captured the essence of culture. They just talked about it as the people. The people do this and the people are this and the people tell this story.

After a little bit of to-ing and fro-ing trying to clarify between the two of us what we meant by culture, he took a long pause and then says, “Ah, so culture’s like the fire. It is lights the way, it warms the heart and it keeps at bay the unwanted.” And up to this day, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better description in some respects of what culture is actually all about. And I still use that reference point today and in the work I’m doing in modern organisations, going “What is your culture doing to light the way and to what extent is it a beacon in the dark to attract others to it, be it employees and customers?” Also, how is your culture signalling to the marketplace that you want certain people to stay away? I still use that reference today and it’s been 30 plus years ago. I just think it’s a really powerful analogy or metaphor, just to kind of keep things very, very simple and look at what the role of culture potentially is doing inside organisations.

Oscar Trimboli:

It’s quite timeless. I’m curious about the role of three things in that, and it’s actually because there are three. For those in the audience, why is it always so much easier to remember just three things? Because that’s kind of transcultural, isn’t it?

Michael Henderson:

Yes and no. It depends… I think in the western cultures, we have a fascination with three because we’re predominantly binary in so much of what we do in our lives. Most of the western education system that people may have gone through comes out of the Greek perspective of life which is logical. So, the Greeks invented logic and fell in love with logic. But logic is almost a limitation, in some respects. It’s incredibly useful, of course, so you can be kind of rational and sequential and feel that you’re making very informed and wise decisions, and at the same time, it’s still a binary kind of operating system. So, what that means is you’re fundamentally dividing the world up into right and wrong, ethical and non-ethical, profitable and non-profitable, productive and unproductive, promoted and not promoted, solved or not solved, bought or not bought, and so on and so forth.

I think the appeal of the three components, element is very attractive to western cultures because this remind us – this can be a little bit more going on with just what we think about and what we’re perceiving so the third element as an open space, an open opportunity to play and even in the topic that you’re masterful around, deep listening. If you think about talking and listening, as we’re both doing this dialogue now, the word that I am most impressed with in the work that you’re doing is not so much the listening, but the deep. That deep is a third component because I’m sure most of your listeners would agree, we spend an awful lot of time in dialogue, in the talking to or talking at or talking with, and also hearing and listening. So, we’re hearing sounds and maybe we’re listening to those sounds and sort of putting more attention on that, but we’re not necessarily unpacking it and going deep. We’re not necessarily reading between the lines or really understanding not what’s said but more what is meant by what is said.

I think there’s this, almost this seduction of the third element that you’ve brought on our attention to here.

Oscar Trimboli:

Michael, as you danced between ancient cultures, eastern cultures, western cultures and then stepping into corporate cultures, listening to context highlights patterns. How do you listen to the context when you go into corporations?

Michael Henderson:

A lot of it is really tuning in to the adjectives that somebody is using. So, the adjectives are almost like road signs in terms of which direction the person is coming from or which direction the person is attempting to go to. By listening to those repeatedly, you can get a sense of potentially the world view, which is sort of an anthropological term but the perspective, I guess, is the other way of saying it. Another element is listening to whether someone feels empowered by what they’re saying or dis-empowered. Again, by listening very carefully to the language and listening for repeated patterns, and depending on what you’re there for and what the dialogue is focused on, you can either bring that to their awareness and see if that’s a valid way of describing the circumstances or the experience they’ve had. And sometimes it is, in a very valid, very aware of what they’re saying.

Oscar Trimboli:

Michael, it was a joy to learn from you and more importantly, there is about nine things that I was furiously scribbling down that I know the audience is going to love. Michael, thanks so much.

Michael Henderson:      

My pleasure, Oscar. Thank you.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Exploring your role and your judgement and what you bring to the conversation in the dialogue was beautifully illustrated by Michael where he talked about how he fits in to cultures when he comes to listen. I love the way he explored context through patterns, particularly through language patterns and adjectives and how conscious you are when you’re noticing other people speaking. I wonder if you really listen at that level. Because if you do, you can unpick some amazing power in the conversation, not just for you, but for the person you’re speaking with. The person you’re listening to. Ultimately, Michael role modelled beautifully how important making meaning is for many conversations. And that’s in understanding when meaning is at level 5 that the power comes about in a conversation.

A great warning for corporate leaders out there. Don’t go through the motions with engagement surveys. Engagement is built in every moment. It’s in every conversation. Look carefully at the body language that the people you’re talking with are giving back to you. That will tell you better than any survey you’ll ever create how engaged they are.

Thanks for listening to Deep Listening, Impact beyond words.

Podcast Episode 004: Jessica Watson – Around the world solo sailor explains how she listened to how boat to understand changes in the ocean and weather conditions

I am excited to have Jessica Watson on today’s show. Jessica became the youngest person to sail solo nonstop around the world. She was named Young Australian of the year in 2011 and received an OAM (Order of Australia Medal). She is co-founder of the marine startup Deckee and Youth Ambassador for The United Nations World Food Programme. She is currently working on her MBA and her second book, a novel published by Hachette.

While Jessica was on her solo trip sailing around the world, she learned to sail with her ears as she listened to her boat to understand changes in the ocean and with weather conditions. She takes us on an amazing journey of how she sailed with her ears, and how she uses her deeper listening skills to conduct television interviews. She talks about the power of silence and not interrupting while listening. All in an effort to help people and groups listen to each other.

Listen now

Tune in to learn

  • How Jessica broke the news to her family about sailing solo around the world.
  • Jessica kept focus using small goals and different milestones along the way.
  • How Jessica sailed by her ears by listening to the sound of the water.
  • There is constant noise from the boat and the roar of the waves.
  • A noise that you are not used to can signal that something is wrong.
  • How amazing it was for Jessica to have such amazing alone time.
  • The role of listening when sailing and communicating with boat crews.
  • The importance of letting others express their thoughts and feelings.
  • How listening is a practice, discipline and a process.
  • The power of listening, body language, and silence when interviewing people.

Links and resources

Want to create a big impact?

Subscribe to the Deep Listening podcast on your favourite service and never miss an episode.

If you have any suggestions, questions or recommendations for people to interview for podcast please email oscar@oscartrimboli.com

Transcription

 

Episode 004: Deep Listening with Jessica Watson 

 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words. 

Jessica Watson:  

You’re so utterly in tune with the noises of the boat, you know. One tiny little noise that isn’t what you’re used to can signal that something’s wrong, or that you are sailing slightly in the wrong direction, that your steering equipment’s not guiding you in the right way, so you really do become in tune to that. 

Oscar Trimboli:  

On this episode of “Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words”, we speak to Jess Watson, round the world sailor. She takes us through an amazing journey, and explains that all that time on the ocean, she learned to listen to her vessel. She learned to sail by her ears, and that helped her to become a much better listener.  

We go beyond the ocean with Jess, and we understand how she struggles with listening while she’s interviewing people for television stations, and highlights that, maybe Jess is an interrupting listener, but she reinforces the power of silence and talks about how powerful silence is in helping people and groups to listen to each other.  

As we discover what it’s like to listen to yourself and others in the middle of the ocean. Welcome, Jessica! 

Jessica Watson: 

Thank you very much for having me. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

I’m always curious about people’s stories and where they grew up and stuff their families did together and parents and siblings and what their dinner table kind of conversations might sound like. Tell us a bit of your story, Jess.  

Jessica Watson: 

I’d certainly loved dinner-time stories and I think they were a big part of my childhood. I had a pretty big family, there were four of us kids and mum and dad, growing up in Queensland. Mum particularly read me a lot of books. I’m very dyslexic, so trying to help me out there, but probably didn’t realise the damage they were doing at the time to put these ideas in the back of my head and set me up to believe that I really could do anything I wanted to. I probably took that a bit further than they really maybe intended.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

In those dinner table conversations where the bait was encouraged and all of that, was there one that really stood out for you? 

Jessica Watson: 

Look, I’m not sure if this one was exactly over dinner but it was a sort of a very serious family discussion that we were having when I first told, rather than asked, mum and dad that I wanted to sail around the world by myself. And yeah, my sister prodded me to tell, because I’d told her what I wanted to do and was incredibly nerve wracking to actually say it, because this was something I was already completely set on and to say it out loud was very… it was intimidating. I think there was a fair bit of a shock. I think I was even crying at the time, but it was a fair bit of shock for mum and dad. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

What role did listening play, do you think on your parents’ part in that conversation? 

Jessica Watson: 

Probably the way that I told them was more important than what I was telling them, because you know if your kid comes along and says, “Hey I’m going to sail around the world”, you probably would kinda go, “Oh yeah, sure, and you know next week you’ll be wanting to go to the moon.” Because I was crying and because I was so serious about this and because my sister had said, “Jessica’s got something important to tell you.” The whole, everything set up for them to believe that I really was serious about this. This wasn’t just a fleeting dream that was gonna pass.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

They could have dismissed it at that stage but they obviously listened. How did they do that and encourage you from that point? 

Jessica Watson: 

I don’t think because I was clearly so… it meant so much to me already that and they could see that from listening to me, I don’t think they could dismiss it. That would’ve been, they would’ve seen, that would have been quite hurtful to me. In a way, I always joke that was their opportunity to squish it, they should’ve dismissed it at that point, because it just build from there, and they listened to me continue talking about it and realised it more and more it had gone to the point where it would’ve utterly destroyed me to try and stop me doing this, because I was utterly obsessed. It was my life.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Well, let’s pick up the story. You were at the dinner table. You were twelve years old. What happened next? 

Jessica Watson: 

Well, next was years and years of working towards the trip. In the early days, that was kind of gaining experience and doing as much sailing as I could off-shore, so survival courses, first aid, navigation courses, learning to navigate by the stars, really meeting a lot of incredible people, mentors, advisors along the way. Then, the logistics, you know?  

Finding the support, the boat, the months and months of work refitting that boat. Going and hitting a ship before I left, on a training voyage, fixing up that damage, dealing with the media criticism. The voyage itself was kind of a relief to start with, to finally escape all of that. You know, I had a lot of fun with the voyage. It’s easy to downplay the challenges now that it’s been seven years, but one of things I am proud of is the fact I had fun with it as well.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

You set sail and I’m curious how you stayed focused out there in the ocean over extended periods of time.  

Jessica Watson: 

Well, you don’t have a choice. It’s easy to stay focused and continue. Not give up when you really don’t have any other choice, so you’re out there completely by yourself in a position where you might be weeks away from help should you need it or kind of want to give up. It’s very easy to keep going when really, that’s your only option. There were obviously different periods when I went through different challenges mentally, when you knew the first part of the trip was likely to be very hard as you are adjusting to being by yourself and just not having that human contact.  

I’d sort of set myself up to expect the first month really to be really quite horrible. And was quite pleasantly surprised when I found that it wasn’t so tough, but yeah, the smaller goals was probably how I kept myself focused. It was the different oceans, the different milestones along the way that I had to focus on those smaller parts.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Thinking about that time, one of the things you would have got to listen to was the ocean.  

Jessica Watson: 

Yes, yeah, absolutely. The way I sailed around the world meant that I didn’t see land very often. It was only really, yeah, absolutely. The way I sailed around the world meant that I didn’t see land very often. It was only really a handful of times. I was out there on a whole lot of very often on a grey, empty ocean. Not seeing a single other thing and not really having anything else there, so you really notice the detail of the ocean and the sounds obviously.  

I often do talk about the fact that I sailed the boat by my ears, because when you’re sleeping, you know the smallest change, the smallest noise, does wake you. I know a lot incredible sailors who have those amazing ability to read the clouds, and I’m not sure if I was particularly good at that but one thing I really did notice was the way the water sounded. After or approaching a storm, you could hear the way the water moved. It was different, you gotta sense though what that meant after you’ve been out there for quite some months.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Wow, so you’ve sailed by listening. Did you notice any other sounds besides the sound of the ocean while you were out there? 

Jessica Watson: 

I mean, it’s a bit of a misconception really that the ocean and the sailing is this really quiet peaceful thing to do, I think. There is actually an extraordinary amount of noise and it’s constant, very, very constant. It’s very rare out there that you actually get a perfectly still day where there is no movement, therefore no noise. You’ve constantly got this roar of the waves and the boat sailing through them, and it is those noises of the boat sailing as well that kind of hear the moving and the creaking and the slapping of the sails that are actually all happening.  

It’s often when I’m at sea and when I come in from a voyage that it actually it really hits me that silence it’s yeah, I think that’s a bit misconception about the ocean that it’s quiet.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Thinking about you are at one with the boat, almost. How did you notice the sounds of the boat evolve over time, and what were the different details you listened to during that time? 

Jessica Watson: 

You’re so utterly in tune with the noises of the boat, you know… One tiny little noise that isn’t what you’re used to can signal that something is wrong, or that you are sailing slightly in the wrong direction. That you’re steering equipment’s not guiding so utterly in tune with the noises of the boat, you know… One tiny little noise that isn’t what you’re used to can signal that something is wrong, or that you are sailing slightly in the wrong direction. That you’re steering equipment’s not guiding you in the right way. You really do become in tune to that and it would wake me up and wake up at the slightest unusual noise that wasn’t meant to be there.  

Obviously, personally as well, it is so rare and such an amazing opportunity to have that time to yourself. I obviously had a lot of contact with other people, but actually often found that contact is very helpful as it was at times as well, but also it was actually quite distracting and it got me out of this rhythm that I was in out there. At times, I actually found it quite difficult. People wanted to kind of constantly be talking to me and checking that I was okay.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

One of the things we work on in listening particularly when we’re in situations like telephone situations where we can’t see the other person. There’s two situations, there’s people you know and people you don’t know, so let’s talk about that when you were calling people you did know. To what extent were you trying to visualise their bodies and noticing the inclination in their voice? 

Jessica Watson: 

Yeah, I suppose when you’ve got nothing else you have to rely on picking up a lot from the tone of their voice and when the times it was really tough out there. I had a sort of a boat manager, a project manager who, he would be the person I would call, because, I suppose when you’ve got nothing else you have to rely on picking up a lot from the tone of their voice and when the times it was really tough out there. I had a sort of a boat manager, a project manager who, he would be the person I would call, because obviously the last thing I needed at that point even though my mum and dad were very heavily involved, and my mum particularly is very capable of sort of dealing with an emergency situation, very calm and sensible.  

The last thing I needed was the slightest bit of emotion to creep through at that point, and to just need to deal with what was going on, and that’s what happened. I think it was near Christmas and it wasn’t in the thick of a bad situation, but really the only time I think that my mum ever did let that bit of an emotion come down that line and I could just tell that she was going through a tough time and that was absolutely horrendous for me. Yeah, it’s not really something that I’ve talked about much, I only just told her recently. That I don’t even think she remembered that incident that tiny bit of emotion just, you know, I needed … it was hard.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

I would assume you’re dealing with people across the world that you don’t know as well be they coastguards or various other navigational authorities. How carefully did you have to listen in those situations? 

Jessica Watson: 

I didn’t speak to a huge amount of people I didn’t know, and in a way I was quite conscious of well, I kind of backed away from doing that, which maybe I’m kind of didn’t speak to a huge amount of people I didn’t know, and in a way I was quite conscious of well, I kind of backed away from doing that, which maybe I’m kind of just reflecting on now when I think about it and go, maybe because it was just a bit too hard. The work, used to do radio skids and things with strangers, but I didn’t really find myself wanting to do that. 

Maybe because it is that bit harder and it was something I really did find on a couple of different radio calls that it was just too hard to understand and to make that connection. There were a couple of people though who I did talk to. There was an Indian circumnavigator, the first Indian to sail around the world by himself in the same area that I was for quite a time and we did chat and communicate quite a bit. I did really identify with him, maybe because we were in a similar situation so I could … that communication barrier was broken down a bit because we were the only people in the bottom of this ocean and did have that shared experience.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

That’s not where you stopped. You continued on and you’ve led crews on significant ocean voyages with young people on board. Tell us a bit about the role of listening as it relates to skippering a crew through ocean yachting series.  

Jessica Watson: 

This is a really fascinating subject and I think one that kind of deserves more attention throughout sailing community. Really thinking about the way people communicate on boats. It’s something incredible when you see a professional crew do it. It’s so quiet and quick and efficient. I skippered, the youngest ever to compete in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. I was the skipper but very much working with much more experienced crew who were far better racing so only slightly older, mostly some of those who were more experienced were guys and the communication to try and get the dynamic working well on the boat, it was challenging. We had incredible coaches who put us through a lot of hard work, really trying to work how we could problem solve really quickly and effectively with this crew of 10 all getting an input.  

Then, in those situations where communication has to be really efficient. You gotta feed your calls back from the front of the boat over the noise of wind and waves, so it has to be this effective, someone makes a call such as “made” and somebody can acknowledge that really effectively. It is when miscommunications happen that things go wrong, that sails end up in the water and that dangerous situations do kinda occur.  

It can be absolutely be quite chaotic and it’s probably most people’s experience in sailing is that they go out with boat and they’re all yelling and screaming and it all sounds like madness and yeah, I’m really proud of how far we came as a team, because on the first days of training, that’s exactly what was going on in our boat. By the end it was absolutely not like that at all. You know, communication is kind of cut right back down to just the necessary and the important. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Yeah, we spent 55% of our day listening and yet only two percent of us have ever had any training in listening, so we get taught how to read and write and do math and all those things, but we don’t get taught how to listen and this podcast is helping to fill that gap. There’s full listening villains, that are out there, Jess. There’s the lost listener, the shrewd listener, the interrupting listener and the dramatic listener. Which one do you think you’re guilty of? 

Jessica Watson: 

Look, I probably do tend to kind of try and summarise a bit much into maybe the shrewd listener. In fact, that was what my coach really identified when we were working with this youth crew during the Sydney Hobart campaign was that when we were having big brainstorming discussions off the water mainly, when you did have time to really flush things out, I would be tending to kind of try and get to the point a little bit too quickly. I wasn’t really letting them kind of play around with different things. Trying to summarise, trying to clarify.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

I’m visualising you on the shore with this young crew and can you think of a situation where you kind of caught yourself and realised that you needed to let it go and realised what the potential that came out of that was?  

Jessica Watson: 

Yeah, I mean it was easy at the time, because it was my coach who was helping me identify these things. I suppose it was once or twice in particularly where I wasn’t letting people kind of express their feelings, and their thoughts and their opinions. Maybe it wasn’t so much that I was missing the important points. It was more that by not letting them actually express those things. They weren’t able to express their frustrations and really that’s probably what they needed in that situation and I have noticed that a lot working with other people in the years since then. I’m really conscious of not trying to rush to the point.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

What do you think the impact was for the crew when they were able to express all those things both on the water and off the water? 

Jessica Watson: 

I suppose it was pretty powerful because we were a very different team, we were a very diverse team, deliberately chosen for that reason, so that was hard. It’s much easier to step on-board a boat with a bunch of like-minded people who have done exactly the same type of sailing and it all just works. We were in a harder position to start with but what happened and I think why we did ultimately quite well in the race was because we did have these very different opinions but it was only because we actually learned the right processes and learned to communicate and learned to listen to each other, that we were able to actually express our different opinions and right person was able to bring the right point forward to the right time that gave us that strength. Yeah. Listening kind of enabled the diversity that really made us strong.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Great example! I mean most people think listening is something you do at a point in time but it’s really a practise and a discipline and also talk to process. It’s all three of those things. You talked about a communication process that you’d set up. I think it’ll be valuable for the audience to understand that, cause a lot of them maybe listening and they’re in a work place but they don’t get to pick the teams they’re working with like you were deliberately diverse, and modern work places are you may be working with people who come from different backgrounds, you may be working with teams that are overseas and talk us through the process you mentioned earlier on about communication there.  

Jessica Watson: 

Well, it was interesting because we had a lot of support from Deloitte. They were putting us through this, a bunch of teenagers through their very corporate programme and teaching us those things that were developed in an office setting. A lot of them were quite simple things like the problem-solving diagram, which is all about what’s the problem and then actually breaking it down and really getting all the information you need.  

This was at a point where the team would all try and feedback their observations, so what’s the wind doing ahead, what’s the other boats doing, what’s happening on the boats? Feeding all of that information back so that was kind of gathering that listening part of that process and then you actually had to listen, synthesise and bring it all together and make the right decisions.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

How does interviewing people change your perspective on listening? 

Jessica Watson: 

Yeah, having to interview people rather than be interviewed, which is the situation I’ve been in for many years is really exciting. It’s so much more interesting for me, but I was in a really big shock for me to realise that my way of listening is to stand there and go mm-hmm (affirmative), and “sure” and of course, I really hate that when it’s on camera.  

You can’t be ruining their response with all this kind of feedback from myself to show, and especially when you’re interviewing people who are really a bit hesitant you know that are typical blocky bloke, who doesn’t necessarily want to talk about their feelings, which you’re desperately trying to understand. I had to really learn to use my body language to show how I’m actively listening and encourage them rather than using words to do that.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Is there an interview that changed because you noticed your body language and what was the result of that? 

Jessica Watson: 

I mean it’s all been a steep learning curve to… you know that these fantastic people have great stories to tell, but sometimes you just can’t get it out of them. Having to kind of play around with your body language and the way you’re interviewing to kind of get those stories out of them has been a really fantastic process and you know, a couple have been a key learning process like when the camera person has turned off the camera and said, “Jess, stop talking.” Their response is, you can’t be sitting here going, “Yes, yes, okay.” That’s ruining it. There’s been some pivotal moments like that.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Based on that what’s the role of silence taught you as an interviewer? 

Jessica Watson: 

Yes, silence is powerful. It’s also realising that sometimes silence is the right response, I suppose. I present to a lot of adults in a corporate environment. I’ve always found that when they are listening, they are sort of laughing along and maybe interacting a little bit more but then as soon as you’re in front of a school audience, specially the older kids, the only way you know you’re doing okay is if they’re awfully silent. Success and successful listening is kind of completely different then. They’re not going to engage as much, but if you could get them to listen then that’s just amazing.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

Well, Jess, you’ve shared an amazing story. I’ll look forward to seeing what becomes of that in the future, maybe on the big screen even?  

Jessica Watson: 

Yeah, yeah, we’ll see. It’s an amazing interesting process to see it, yeah, we’ll see. It’s an amazing interesting process to see it, the story kind of come together as a movie. Well, thank you very much. It’s been wonderful and I look forward to listening to so many other podcasts and brushing up on my listening skills a little as well.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

What an extraordinary peek into somebody’s amazing life. Only 22 years old and I feel Jess Watson has lived more life than I have. I couldn’t help but feel that she’s been on a journey already in learning how to listen. Did you hear when she talked about the role of listening completely both to the words and the feelings of her crew in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race when they were debriefing on land? I think it’s really important that when you listen, you’re not just listening to the words but you’re having the opportunity to hear the person completely, not just what they’re saying but how they’re saying it, and noticing how their body is positioned and their energy. I think Jess did a great job of that.

Thanks for listening to Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words. 

Podcast Episode 003: Sarah Manley and David Christie from Innovation Arts explain how to listen to groups of up to 700 people in one room and make them feel heard

One of the five elements of deep listening is asking meaning from listening to others. My guests today are Sarah Manley and David Christie from Innovation Arts, a hybrid strategy consultancy and design agency. David is the founder and Sarah is a project manager, and they both use a form of visual communication called scribing to create solutions.

During the scribing process, a graphic facilitator will create a visual map of a conversation, even if that conversation is between hundreds of people. Businesses and organizations face complex problems that are difficult to solve in a linear fashion. The scribing process creates a visual representation of the conversation and can be used to discover systems and solve complex issues. In this episode, we discuss this process along with focus, preparation and applying design thinking to solutions.

Listen now

Tune in to learn

  • David and Sarah met as part of a large team that created solutions for Y2K.
  • The primary function of a graphic facilitator is to create a visual map of the conversation.
  • How participants focus on listening to the conversation and the scribe does the work.
  • Scribes listen with intent and make visuals of what they hear.
  • How they listen to what is unsaid and make connections with ideas.
  • Preparation includes a content briefing and learning about the company culture.
  • Being fit and healthy is also mandatory.
  • Having the discipline and mindset to stay focused the entire time.
  • How it’s about being curious and engaged with helping people solve problems in the best way possible.
  • People are beginning to understand the systemic nature of things.
  • Complex problems need to be mapped out and the skill set does not always exist.
  • Applying design thinking to a range of problems people are seeing.
  • Capturing the present, past and future in these visual maps.
  • Bringing a meaningful approach to systemic listening.

Links and resources

Want to create a big impact?

Subscribe to the Deep Listening podcast on your favourite service and never miss an episode.

If you have any suggestions, questions or recommendations for people to interview for podcast please email oscar@oscartrimboli.com

Transcription

 

Episode 003: Sarah Manley and David Christie from Innovation Arts explain how to listen to groups of up to 700 people in one room and make them feel heard 

 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words. 

Sarah Manley: 

When you’re really in the zone as a graphic facilitator one thing that you can do is make connections within the conversation that are not obvious to the speakers. And this is possible because of your experience, also your level of listening, and also the fact that you are an outsider to the conversation.  

I feel like the times when we’ve used scribing to its greatest success is when we’re finished with the conversation and everybody steps back from the board and looks at it and says, “Oh man … That’s what we said!”. And so being able to present a model of this organisational issue that they can then use to communicate to other people. I mean I really feel like we’ve done a good day’s work when we’re able to do that. When the client’s able to look at the drawing that we’ve produced and understand their issue a lot better, because it’s filtered and connected and interpreted by another listener. 

Oscar Trimboli:

Welcome to the Deep Listening Podcast: An Impact Beyond Words. 

One of the five elements of deep listening is … Making meaning from listening to others, and I’m delighted today to be joined by Sarah and David. World class experts in visual facilitation and scribing. They’re based in London but their business is global, and they make impacts for individuals, teams, and organisations to move from questions to answers in an organisational context. 

Oscar Trimboli:

The beginning of this story started nearly 20 years ago, when David and Sarah met. Good evening, and good morning, London. David, Hello. 

David Christie:   

Hello! Good morning, good evening. 

Oscar Trimboli:

The story starts 20 years ago, when you and Sarah met. Talk us through that. 

David Christie: 

Well we were both working for a large consulting organisation. The management consultancy that was in the midst of trying to find new and novel approaches to help their clients solve complex problems, and big problem at that time was this thing known as Y2K, year 2000. You might remember it. Planes were going to fall out of the sky and everything was basically go wrong with the planet.  

What this consulting organisation found was a small, but perfectly formed bunch of people in Southern California; Who had created an approach based on design thinking to help groups come together, and work through for example the difficulties of understanding complex systems like an I.T. system that might have faults in every nook and cranny that would result in something terrible happening. So, we basically met as a consequence of this new team being formed around large scale facilitated sessions to help these clients essentially solve complex problems. 

I think Sarah, you were in the U.S. when this started when I was in London. How did that happen? 

Sarah Manley: 

Yeah that’s exactly right. So, I had graduated with a performing arts degree and when I got out of school I needed a job. (laugh) And a friend of mine, who was an artist, had started doing freelance work for this large consulting company. She was an art grad, and they had just started bringing in people to do graphic facilitation. She thought, ‘Oh well, Sarah you’d be great at this, so why don’t you give it a go!’. And so, I did, and never looked back really. Started learning how to do graphic facilitation as a skill, which I added to my repertoire of other skills used on these designs and problem-solving events. And that brought me to London where I kind of never left. So that’s the story of us. 

Oscar Trimboli:

So just for those who’ve never been part of a graphical facilitated session, where a graphical scribe takes moments out of various multiple dialogues that happen, just put us in a room and describe what actually happens over a period of an hour, half a day, a day, multiple days in some cases. What’s actually taking place? Take out listeners into that space, and draw a picture. 

Sarah Manley:  

Well the primary function of a graphic facilitator is to create a visual map of conversation. Usually a large group conversation, although we have worked with groups as small as eight all the way up to groups the size of 700. Or even a large group, plus an online audience. So, the size of group is really limitless, but the reason you’re there is to make a map of this conversation. And that is to support the visual thinkers in the room, and also to support the overall conversation because we believe that if you’re taking notes while you’re listening to a conversation you’re really not doing the most effective listening that you could. So, what we want our participants to do is to sit there, and focus on the task at hand; On the conversation, and let the scribes take care of the work.  

So, what the scribe does is listen with intent. When listening to the conversation, we’re writing down what we’re hearing. We’re making visuals out of what we hear. So, we’re making rapid connections in our brain to an image, perhaps, or a model. We’re also trying our best to make connections between what… As we’re going along, what’s being said. So, connecting the ideas, hopefully if you’re really good, you can do this visually. (laughs) Sometimes you have to just write the words down and go back to it. But you’re making connections to the words and ideas. You’re also listening out for what’s unsaid. 

Part of what makes us successful doing that is that, typically, we have expertise across a broad range client issues. But we’re not really involved in the issues ourselves, so we’re like a separate third party, and that’s what allows us to listen for all this other that’s going on beneath the surface. We’re outside of it, which is what allows us to listen on this other level. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

I love how you explore what’s unsaid, and the fourth level of listening is listening to what’s unsaid. Easy to do in an individual and one, or two person situation, but much more complex in a system of 7, 10, 12, up to 700 people. What I’m curious about is, you have stay in concentration for a really extended period of time, so how do you prepare for a full day session and get ready to listen to rooms of hundreds, and hundreds of people sometimes? 

Sarah Manley:   

First, you prepare in a couple of different ways. Typically, you would have a content briefing from the main sponsor of the event. If it’s one of our design events, we’ve been involved in a design and shaping of the event from the moment the client contacted us with whatever problem they wanted to solve. Sometimes they’ll tell us about the personalities in the room. I always like to ask question about the company culture, to find out is this a corporate culture that people feel free to ask questions, and to speak out.  

You kind of want to get to know the people in the room, and how they are likely to ask questions, and some of the things they might be afraid to say. So, you’ll start out by getting as much information as you can, although, to be honest a lot of this stuff comes to you in the moment on the day. David, you have a different kind of experience when you’re with clients… 

David Christie:

Yes. Yeah that’s true. I mean I guess there are two theories to how you prepare physically, I think that was part of the jest of your question. How do you get mentally in the zone, as well then physically prepared for standing literally for what could be 12 hours during the course of the day. There’s very much, kind of, preparedness that’s required. So, ensuring that you’re fit, and healthy is definitely mandatory if you’re going to be on top of your game. It’s almost like being part of theatre, and knowing that you will probably end up with the most famous back in the world in some instances. Because people are just staring at your back a lot of the time. It could be quite daunting, and in terms of the level of listening that I would be thinking about.  

I may not may necessarily be scribing as intensely as Sarah might, for example. My job typically is more infront of the room, almost orchestrating, or trying to orchestrate the conversation. So, allowing, or trying to bring people into, a conversation at any one specific point in time based on the sort of energy that you’re feeling in the room. So, in some respects you’re trying to help the scribe reach the parts that scribe wants to reach. If that makes sense.  

David Christie:

Because the piece of work that the scribe is doing is at one point a mirror, so it’s mirroring back the conversation that’s taking place, but equally it’s a portal. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

I’m curious. Over a 12-hour day, or even a 3-hour day, or even a 1 hour session. It requires not just extraordinary concentration, and Sarah described this multi-dimensionality of you’re scribing, you’re listening, you’re trying to make meaning, you’re trying to bring out what’s unsaid. No matter how fast they speak they only have to speak at 125 to 150 words a minute, and yet you can think at between 400 and 900 words a minute. So, there is an opportunity to drift off, and how do you have a set of disciplines around your mindset to stay in the dialogue for that period of time. What are tips and tricks you can provide to our listeners? When you jump out, and you are distracted, how do you get back in? Obviously the first point is noticing. Once you’ve noticed, how do you come back in? 

Sarah Manley:   

I think about it like playing an instrument. I play the piano, and sometimes when I’m really into a practice session I don’t really notice I’ve been sitting there for three hours. I think that’s experience, and it’s just the habits that you build up for yourself. (laugh) I was just remembering the time I was scribing a session and, it was for a Dutch client. He was spending the beginning part of his session, just sort of chit-chat getting to know the room, and I was like ‘Oh man, he’s not really saying anything, I’m just going to draw some landscape.’ I was drawing little people on bicycles, little Dutch houses, and little canal boats, and all of a sudden the speaker said, “And that’s how we solve the problem. This seemingly insurmountable problem in our own workplace.” And I was like, ‘Oh no I missed it, I missed it’ (laugh) I missed the main part of the conversation. And I think the only thing to do is just… First of all, you can’t show that you’ve missed it, so… I sort of dialled back on the bicycles, and the canal boats. (laughs) And you just really have to put your back into concentrating and listening, like surely he’s going to give a hook. And most people do, especially in the kind of world we operate.  

There’s a pattern to the speakers, which is to prepare you for what they’re about to say. They’ll say the thing, and then they’ll repeat it. And so luckily for me the speaker did repeat how they solved this seemingly insurmountable problem. Then I was able to get back into the conversation, but I also tell this story as a cautionary tale. Because it really is easy to let yourself kind of slip, and think ‘This whatever they’re saying isn’t that important, it’s just chit-chat’, and often times there’s something there that you need to be paying attention to. So, for me that was a big lesson. 

Oscar Trimboli:

Wonderful example of the lossless, coming into play there beautifully. David how for you how do you stay focused and on game? 

David Christie: 

For me it’s about being curious. The good thing for us is we are actually brought in, we’re engaged by people, to help people solve a problem. So, I guess my objective, always, is to get people to solve that problem in the best way that they can. Which isn’t necessarily the most creative way, it just needs to be the best way that would work for that group, or work for the organisation. So, my attitude going into that conversation is about being furiously curious, and being able to hope, or expect, or wait for a nugget that’s basically going to materialise.  

You know, I guess 20 odd years into doing this, I think I just learned to be fairly intense in my listening, in my expectation that there will be just something marvellous that someone will drop into a conversation. And it may be that wild idea, but it may not. It may be something that’s just naturally emerging with the group. But I just stay focused for that period of time. I think if you go in with an open mind, and you feel excited that some new possibility will emerge, but it’s your job to fish it out. I think that’s how I personally manage to stay concentrated. 

Oscar Trimboli:  

The beautiful example, the opposite of lossless. The curiousness. So really  the beautiful example, the opposite of lossless. The curiousness. So really really good example there. I’m curious of the kinds of techniques clients tend to use that don’t make a difference, and then they call you. When people come to you, what’s broken? 

David Christie:

Well, so, I guess from my perspective I’m looking at this bit just broader than graphic recording. What we’ve witnessed over the last 20 years is that people are starting to understand the systemic nature of things. So, whereas in the past there were lots of different dynamics within organisations, for example, the CEO and the board were all powerful. They had all the answers. The degrees of complexity were just not there, or at least not understood.  

What we’re seeing now is that, if you’re not a systems thinker you can’t operate. You have to think in terms of systems, because everything is interconnected. We’ve seen very clearly what happens when the system breaks down. Suddenly there are shocks coming from places that you’ve never imagined a shock would come. So essentially that’s a very big change in how organisations now understand they should resolve complex problems. The linearity has disappeared, so the idea of mapping out that system as Sarah said right at the start of the discussion. That’s increasingly important now, and the skillset to be able to do that is not a typical skillset that exists within organisations themselves.  

I think that’s probably the most startling notion I’ve seen. The other one is really then the appreciation of design and design thinking. I mean who would have thought you could be applying design thinking to the range of problems we’ve seen, or we’ve been asked to help with. For example, the World Economic Forum in Davos. Where we’re handed a number of different challenges. 

Sarah Manley:  

When you’re really in the zone, as a graphic facilitator, one thing that you can do is make connections within the conversation that are not obvious to the speakers. And this is possible because of your experience, also your level of listening, and also the fact that you are an outsider to the conversation. I mean, so I feel like the times that we’ve used scribing to its greatest success is when it’s not even obvious until we’re finished with the conversation, and everyone steps back from board and says “Oh man! That’s what we said, that’s how it is, that’s what we said!”. And so being able to present a model of this organisational issue that they can then use to communicate to other people. I mean, I really feel like we’ve done a good day’s work when we’re able to do that. When the client is able to look at the drawing that we’ve produced and understand there issue a lot better. Because it’s been filtered, and connected, and interpreted by another listener. 

Oscar Trimboli:

If you think about the  you think about the role of stories in that, you capture stories, you hear stories. Quite often in my work with clients, until they close off a previous chapter, and give it credit, or acknowledge the fact that it is a story from the past that’s holding them back to the future. It’s really difficult for the team, the people, the organisation to step forward. To what extent are you capturing both the past, and the present, and the future in these amazing maps, and models that you’re creating for these clients? 

David Christie: 

I think, just going back to the idea of the mirror in the portal. I think there’s a very strong element of that. Sometimes there’s a lot of baggage that basically needs to come out in order for a group of people to be able to move on. For example if there’s a history of failure for getting projects done for example. That can have a lot of scarring to it, or when we do have working around complete resolutions. So, working with various different groups in for example, the Middle East. We have to build a future first with which is around building commonality, building trust. Dare I say it, trying to build friendship.  

Sarah Manley:    

Well I was going to say I think one of the key benefits that a graphic facilitator brings to that conversation is, because the work that we do at innovation arts does deal so much in future state visioning. What the graphic facilitator really brings to that is being able to take a picture of it, and I think essentially that’s what we’re doing as graphic facilitators is providing that future vision. I mean, I think a lot of times there’s issues in the past that are all bound up in the context of what brought them to our door. What we do as facilitators is try to pull them out of the past, and get them into the future, like being able to present that credible future is part of our job. 

Oscar Trimboli: 

Wow we’ve covered such a broad spectrum. I was so excited to secure you for the interview for our audience, because the work you do is world class. The impact you have is deep, and it’s all because of you bringing to life the power of systemic listening. For individuals, for teams, and for organisations, and the ecosystems, and stakeholders they deal within and outside their organisations. To Sarah and to David. Thank you, and I’ve really enjoyed listening. 

David Christie:  

Thank you, it’s a pleasure! 

Sarah Manley:

Thank you! you! 

Oscar Trimboli: 

In my work with organisations. I always make a distinction between the three perspectives of listening: Listening as an individual, listening as teams, and then systemic listening. How organisations listen to others inside their organisation, and those that they serve outside of their organisation.  

What struck me most in our conversation with Sarah, and with David is the power of systemic listening and the ability to bring a meaningful approach to those in the room. Whether it’s 5, 50, or 500 to make sense of very complex issues in a simple visual artefact. This is a powerful tool that I’ve seen work well in the organisations that I consult to. Not only because it helps the people in the room at that time make sense of what’s being said. It gives everybody an opportunity to listen, but most importantly yet, lets the people in the room hear what they’ve said, and what everybody else has said. There is great power in systemic listening, and one of the ways to bring that to life is through the visual artefacts.  

I think David, and Sarah’s work is quite extraordinary. It’s world class, and I was really excited to have them as part of this podcast. For you as an individual, ask the question. Are you listening completely to the person’s story? As David and Sarah did in their examples with organisations. Listen completely without judgement, listen completely with empathy, and that will help you become a deeper listener. 

 

Podcast Episode 002: Deep Listening with Alan Stokes

In this episode, I have the opportunity to speak with Alan Stokes. Alan is a journalist and a Lifeline counselor. Listen carefully as Alan explores the way that we can become more potent while on the telephone. He shares tips and tricks for becoming more effective when listening on the phone and really getting to the heart of what is being said. We also talk about authenticity and how to be deeply empathetic to the dialogue as it happens.

We explore the role of judgement, and how it takes away from the impact of the conversation. Alan grew up in a beach family, surfing and body surfing. He always loved the escape and the silence of surfing. He also used to be a heavy drinker, when he first became a journalist. He has also struggled with mental illness which has helped define his world view and the importance of being listened to.

Listen now

Tune in to learn

  • Asking to have a talk instead of telling sad people to cheer up
  • The difference between sympathy and empathy
  • How reflection is giving back to someone what they have told you in meaning
  • How Alan asked for professional help in his forties
  • Problems have to be solved by the person with the problem
  • How conversations are heightened during phone calls
  • The importance of silence and the true mark of trust
  • Minimal encouragers or reminding the person on the line that you are there
  • Avoiding lecturing or making someone feel interrogated
  • Empowering people with open questions, such as how does it feel
  • How “why” questions can be loaded with judgement
  • Physicality and sitting in an open position and looking interested
  • Getting into the right mindset and being ready to listen
  • How Alan’s journalistic background has served him at Lifeline
  • Importance of bringing out the unsaid

Links and resources

Want to create a big impact?

Subscribe to the Deep Listening podcast on your favourite service and never miss an episode.

If you have any suggestions, questions or recommendations for people to interview for podcast please email oscar@oscartrimboli.com

 

Transcription

 

Podcast 002: Deep Listening with Alan Stokes 

 

Oscar Trimboli:

Deep Listening… Impact beyond words. 

Alan Stokes:

Why questions are loaded with judgement quite often. Not always, but 90% of the time. Why do you do that? Why are you asking me in that tone of voice? It’s not a positive non-judgemental approach. It’s an approach that somehow comes with baggage.  

Oscar Trimboli:

In this episode, we have the opportunity to speak to Alan, who spans two distinct domains of listening. One as a journalist and one as a lifeline counsellor. Listen carefully as he explores the way you can become more potent while you’re on the telephone. He provides lots of amazing tips and tricks to become more effective when you’re listening on the phone.  

He also explores the importance of authenticity in listening and being deeply empathetic to the dialogue that presents itself. He explores the role of judgement and how that takes energy and impact away from the conversation.  

Let’s listen to Alan.  

Oscar Trimboli: 

I’m delighted today to be joined by Alan Stokes on today’s episode of “Deep Listening: Impact beyond words.” We explore what happens when you call Lifeline, an organisation that’s dedicated to assisting people in their most difficult times.  

Alan, we always start by introducing you to the audience.  

Alan Stokes:    

Well, Oscar, I grew up first of all in Coogee near the beach in Sydney and then in Avalon, near the beach in Sydney and then in Terrigal near the beach on the central coast. You might see there’s a pattern there. Yeah, we were a beach family. We surf, we bodysurf. But it was a tough family. I had one sibling and we copped a lot. My mum copped a lot. We had dysfunction and my dad was a drinker, gee! my dad was a drinker, my dad was a drinker. And yeah, we had some pretty tough times. But we also had some great times and we learned a lot.  

I think it was always good to get in the surf and get the silence, the escape from the clatter, from the problems, from the troubles. 

Oscar Trimboli:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), so talk us through your journey as a journalist. 

Alan Stokes:  

I snuck in, I was lucky. I was still drinking heavily. We’d go for lunch and have five schooners, which is five almost pints of beer at lunchtime. I moved on to other newspapers in Australia and overseas. I worked in London, I’ve been a Tokyo correspondent. I’ve done a variety of things but, through the whole time I’ve struggled with mental illness and alcoholism and that’s informed throughout my worldview, my view on listening to people. And when I was at my lowest ebb, when I was in journalism in Sydney, I had suicidal thoughts and they grew and grew and I was going to kill myself. And I rode on a bus one day in Clarence Street in Sydney and I was ready to kill myself. I got home, burst into tears and I said, “I can’t do this anymore.” Luckily, I found some help. But for months before I hadn’t been listened to. The signs were there.  

Oscar Trimboli:

You said, for a couple of months you weren’t listened to before you got onto that bus. What were people doing and not doing that could have helped you to be heard?  

Alan Stokes:  

I would get into a lift and I would be very sad. The world was around me. I’ve often described it as like being locked in a box and someone would say, “Stop looking so morose. You’re always looking sad. You’re such a downer.”  

And it’s very hard to respond to that. So, a simple question and my answer may well have saved me from that point.  

Oscar Trimboli:

What would have been an insightful question somebody could have explored with you in the lift at that time?  

Alan Stokes:   

“I notice that you’re down quite a lot, Alan. What would you think about maybe having a chat with me about it? I want know how you’re going.”  

Oscar Trimboli:

What do you think holds people back from that very simple question?  

Alan Stokes:

Many times, it’s people are too busy in their own lives. And really, people are not good listeners because many people are the centre of their own universe. That’s understandable. If you ask someone, are you okay and they say, “No.” What do you say back?  

And the answer is, you don’t say a lot. Like, you listen and you listen acutely to what they say. And you sit with them while they talk. There are particular types of questions you can ask, approach things in a certain way, reflect content and feelings of those people. So that they understand that they’re being listened to, that their message is getting through and that you’re not judging them. What you’re doing is being, if you like, an empathetic shoulder. Someone who’s sitting with them during their pain. 

 Oscar Trimboli:

Mm-hmm (affirmative) I’d love to pick up on two things that you said during that dialogue. One is the role of reflection and the second one was your ability to be an empathic or empathetic listener.  

There’s quite a distinction between sympathy and empathy and yet most people move into the role of sympathy. 

 Alan Stokes: 

I think it’s a fairly clear dichotomy. When there are two people in a conversation and one person’s going through a struggle, sympathy is about the person who is hearing about the struggle. It’s all about me, me, me. I am feeling bad for you. That’s a selfish thing. It’s well-meaning, sometimes it can be helpful. But, basically, it’s about: I need to feel sorry for you because of what you’re telling me.  

If you think about that deeply, that doesn’t help the other person. What helps the other person is empathy. And that is being there with them. It’s about them.  

So our aim at Lifeline is to offer empathy, which means: it’s about them. It’s not sympathy about me and what I think and what I feel about, oh how bad it is for someone else to go through a break up, or a mental health issue, or whatever. It’s about them and what we can do to support them to get through their crisis and that’s where refection’s crucial. Because reflection, by definition, is you giving back to someone else what they’ve just told you either in content or in broader meaning or in feeling.  

In the one action of reflecting you are acknowledging that you’ve heard. You’ve really heard.  

Oscar Trimboli:

Your journey into being part of the Lifeline organisation and being on the telephone. Let’s continue your story that gets us there.  

Alan Stokes: 

Yeah, I had some pretty tough times and when I was suicidal I was working for the media organisation. And then I simply wasn’t heard and I need to go and get help. And I went and got help and I knew, for me, I needed time, in fact, I needed silence. I needed silence away from the clatter of life, because no-one in the clatter of life was listening. My wife was. A couple of close friends were, but again, even then, they felt incapable of being there with me.  

So, I got professional help and that’s a big call for someone in their, his forties, who’s got five kids. He’s always strong, he’s always drunk to excess but still managed to survive. And it was a huge, huge humbling experience to have to go and ask someone to, for help. But someone did listen and I got professional help and I worked through it and I worked out my own solutions and that’s really important because, in the end, going back to sympathy and empathy: With sympathy, you will try to solve someone else’s problems for them and impose upon them a solution that you personally think is right for them.  

Now, something about Lifeline is that, we believe that every individual is the expert in his or her life. If you think, the logical extension of that is, if they are the expert in his or her life, who is best to solve that problem. It’s not me because it would be my solution to their problem. It has to be their solution.  

So, that strength-based approach is very important.  

Oscar Trimboli:

I’m simply curious. In our modern world today, we get a lot of distance between people in work environments and even in social contexts. Meaning there is increasingly more and more things that we do over the telephone, as an example. What advice would you give to people out there who spend their time on the phone?  

Alan Stokes:    

I often think of, if someone loses one sense the others are heightened. And it’s like that with a phone call. If you take away the vision, if you take away the environment, the sensory feel of where you’re sitting, what the room’s like. If you take all that away, it actually focuses your mind very much on exactly what’s being said. And certainly, the basic one for me, is to be able to match the tone and pace of what someone’s saying.  

So if I come on to the phone like this and I’m talking like this and I’m talking like this, not only will I try to slow the person down, but I’ll, “Okay, I’ll talk like this, so you’re feeling like this, you’re feeling like this, maybe we should talk. How about we slow down a bit and we just, I need to clarify in my own mind, just… I’m a bit concerned, what’s worrying you at the moment?” And you can see the change in tone and pace.  

A few other things that are important: silence is crucial. Silence is golden. I always say that the true mark of trust is to be able to sit in a car and drive and not say anything to the person next to you because you trust them. That they’re not going to judge you, they’re not going to say anything silly. You just sit there and enjoy the silence. And there are times on the phone where that is absolutely essential.  

Now, there are times as well where you need to just remind the listener that you are there and we call them Minimal Encouragers. So, someone says to me, “I’m in a really bad way.” I could leave a silence for five seconds or I could go, “Mmm … uh-hu … mmm, I’m hearing you.” And that then becomes a silence, it’s a constructive silence. Because you’ve re-validated that you’re listening. And you’re listening closely. So silence is really important. 

We talked about reflection before. Reflection allows you, not just the validating of someone’s views or their feelings, but it also allows you to make sure and check in that what you’re listening is what’s intended. So, “I can hear that you’re really down because your wife’s left you. You’re feeling really sad and you’re concerned about your children’s future.”  

And then if the listener says, “That’s exactly it.” You’re on the right track and you can move the conversation forward. If the listener says, “Oh, not so much that, it’s something else.” Then you empower the listener to take the conversation the way they want to do. 

Now, when you’re on the phone it’s absolutely essential to avoid lecturing someone, or talking at them, or making them feel like they’re interrogated. But when it comes to truly hearing someone’s story, truly deep listening, you need open questions. You need to empower someone to tell you what they want you to hear. So the use of the word “how?” “How does that feel for you?” “How have you been able to cope?”  

“What have you been doing that’s helping you through this? What would you like to see happen next?” “What, if you had a magic wand, would next week look like for you?” “What’s your big idea and your big dream to solve this problem?”  

Oscar Trimboli:

And an example of an open-ended question sometimes that falls flat is the why question.  

Alan Stokes:     

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Why questions are loaded with judgement quite often. Not always, but 90% of the time. “Why do you do that?” “Why are you asking me in that tone of voice?” “Why did you decide to stay with your abusive wife or husband?” “Why didn’t you do this?”  

As you can see in all of those questions there’s an implied judgement, an implied negativity. It’s not a positive non-judgemental approach. It’s an approach that somehow comes with baggage.  

Oscar Trimboli:

People I’ve worked with over the telephone talk about how they’re matching energy and tonality and pacing in language. But there’s also a physicality to the telephone. Some people stand and walk around while they’re on the telephone. Some people are deliberate in sitting while they’re on the telephone. I notice some people that I’ve worked with, when they’re talking to children will actually kneel down to get down to what would be the equivalent of their eye level. Some people stand up for certain periods of time. What advice would you give people about the role of the physical settings in the context of listening to people on the telephone?  

Alan Stokes:   

It’s a really difficult one because people live busy lives, they’ve got different circumstances. But, if at all possible, this is what Lifeline believes, if you can be sitting in a position where you’re open, as you would in person. I’m sitting here with you now, straight back, feet flat on the floor, not crossed arms, open, looking as though I’m actually interested in what you say. And I am. You need to have that same approach on the phone. Because your body language will be reflected in your voice. So I would recommend at any time, not to be standing, not to be walking around, not to be distracted. If you want deep listening and you want to get the benefits of that you need to be in the space and that means focused and it means caring and being curious of what the person wants to, has to say. And in that way, I think, you find the conversation comes more easily because, the person will respond in kind and that’s what we want.  

Oscar Trimboli:

Right. And in preparing for the shift at Lifeline, preparing to listen. Talk me through the process of how you go from your day-to-day life to step in the door, to step into the seat that you will pick up the phone call from and how do you get ready to listen?  

Alan Stokes:     

It’s an interesting question because, for a lot of people, it’s quite daunting. There’s a lot of stress. It’s really important that you, as a Lifeline telephone counsellor, that you look after yourself. We call it, self-care. So, it’s a matter of having boundaries. At Lifeline, we’re actually quite funny people, we have jokes beforehand, we get on really well, there’s a lot of camaraderie and collegiality. But when you walk into that office it’s quite closed off. It’s like a little hermetically sealed bubble. And that’s a positive because, as soon as you walk into the bubble, you know you are focused, but most important there’s actually physical things you do. One is, you log into a computer. Once you’re in there you’re sort of, that’s the preparation. And then you put on your headset. And that very act of putting on a headset gets you in the mindset.  

But then you hit a button and it’s called the ready button. You hit that ready button, you only hit it when you’re ready to listen. And when the light goes on on the phone and there’s someone on the other end, bang, you’re in this little world and it’s you and the caller. Everything else is irrelevant. And that’s how it should be in every conversation. Because if you don’t give someone that total focus and attention, you’re disrespecting them.  

Oscar Trimboli:

With this unique combination and your background as a journalist, what do you think you bring as a strength that you learned in the journalistic field around listening to your work today?  

Alan Stokes:  

Journalistic questioning comes in two, well actually there’s three types. One is to elicit information you already know. So, closed questioning, it’s like a barrister. “You were at the scene of the crime and you meant to do that, didn’t you?” “I put it to you that this, this, this.” And the answer’s going to be yes or no. So those closed questions is when you know the information and you just want the answer to validate it.   

Another one is when you’re searching for an angle for a story, it’s an opening question. If I ask an open question: “What’s the problem at the council this week?” The answer could come, “Oh, it’s to do with legal problems, it’s to do with the elections, it’s to do with rate payers and their concerns, it’s to do with health and safety.” It opens the conversation up, it gives me a chance to pursue all sorts of different angles in a story.  

So the third one, which is the most important thing, is that recognising through your questioning and through your senses what’s being unsaid. And the unsaid questioning technique is the most important one, not just in journalism but in Lifeline. To be able to bring out what is unsaid is really, is really a skill and it’s something that requires the focus, that requires the questioning technique. It requires the reflection of meaning. So that if someone tells you something, and it doesn’t quite make sense, you need to be able to say, “Okay, from what I’m hearing, this crisis is happening to you in a way like this… Is that correct?” And often that will open up areas that are unsaid.  

Sometimes people will be irrational in their crisis. Their rational thinking brain has left them, temporarily. So you sometimes have to gently challenge them. And that often brings up unsaid information. So, they might be thinking that the world’s ending because they’ve lost their job, blah, blah, blah. Then they might have ignored that, in fact they’ve got qualifications that are in demand this week, or next week and that in fact they’ve got a chance of doing something that’s more exciting in their life. And then being able to say, “Well what’s stopping you getting from here to your dream?” And often that’s the unsaid thing. What’s stopping people? If you can get to a point where they’ll tell you, what stands between them and relief, you’re halfway there.  

Oscar Trimboli:

How will those questions around exploring unsaid be different in journalism? Because I think, for a lot of our listeners, when we talk about the fourth level of listening, which is listening to the unsaid, they struggle.  

Alan Stokes:  

I think we’ve missed out the idea that, the unsaid is often unsaid because people don’t think anyone could give a stuff, that no-one could care. “Ah, look, no-one cares about that, I’m not going to talk about that normally.” Which gets back to something I mentioned before. Deep listening requires an authentic curiosity. You have to be genuinely interested in what the person thinks, what they have to say, what’s happening to them. What contributions do they think they can make to your organisation, or to your friendship? Basically, you’ve got to trust them, genuinely trust them, to have really great ideas. And that’s where I think there’s a difference between true leadership and leadership by checklist. I think we’d all be better in every organisation and every family if we were authentically interested and curious about what other people might do.  

Oscar Trimboli:

For those people listening who might want to contact Lifeline, what do you recommend they do?  

Alan Stokes: 

They ring 13-11-14 in Australia. There’s also a Lifeline website: Lifeline.org.au. If you’re in crisis and you are suicidal or if you’re feeling that you’re threatened in any way, physically or verbally, then you ring triple zero, that’s really important.  

Oscar Trimboli:

Alan you’ve spanned a great horizon of the power of listening. Provided some really practical examples and you’ve brought great meaning to the importance of being authentic. And it was a delight watching you today, while we were speaking I have the privilege of watching you while you were talking, not just listening to you. To bring to life these powerful ideas for those who are listening today. So, on behalf of the audience and me, thank you.  

Alan Stokes: 

Thank you very much and good luck.  

Oscar Trimboli:

It’s hard for me to summarise Alan’s interview. He took us to so many different places. But the thing that consistently came across was Alan’s integrity. He spoke from a place of deep authenticity. And in watching him while I was interviewing, there was never anything that was incongruent between what he was saying, what his eyes were showing me and what his body energy was showing.  

I felt I was in the presence of quite a calm and powerful listener. Alan’s experience across both journalism and as a crisis counsellor helped me to understand the roles that assumptions and judgement play in removing power from a conversation.  

I think we’d all agree that the way he took his time to use those very simple ‘How’ questions and what questions, are things that we can take into our own listening in our daily lives.  

How many open questions are you practising with when you’re listening, versus the closed questions?  

It was Alan’s insight into the judgement that sits behind the questions starting with ‘Why?’ That was the most powerful concept I took out of today. And I’ll be much more careful to be conscious of when I use questions beginning with why.  

Thanks for listening.  

 

Podcast Episode 001: Deep Listening with Jennifer MacLaughlin

Jennifer MacLaughlin is an Auslan Interpreter for the deaf community. Auslan has a similar language structure to Asian languages. The word order is different and the picture and scene is created first. The language is created in a visual sense.

We explore a conversation where Jennifer was standing on stage translating an extraordinary piece of poetry to a group of people who were in the dark. I was moved by the energy that Jennifer brought to the conversation about what it means to listen deeply.

Listen now

Tune in to learn

  • How signing involves taking turns and respecting space and time
  • Having to wait for concrete meaning before signing
  • Jennifer shares her family life and how they moved to Australia for warmth
  • How Jennifer became interested in Auslan after being prompted by a friend
  • She has signed in many venues including corporate settings, universities, hospitals, and rallies
  • Challenges of interpreting poetry and how Jennifer did this for 1,200 people in Hyde Park
  • Staying focused with so many dimensions going on
  • Feeling the energy of the person speaking and staying connected
  • Unpacking the meaning of a word to make connotations very clear
  • Really thinking about what you are saying when speaking

Links and resources

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Subscribe to the Deep Listening podcast on your favourite service and never miss an episode.

If you have any suggestions, questions or recommendations for people to interview for podcast please email oscar@oscartrimboli.com

Transcription

 

Podcast 001 Jennifer MacLaughlin 

 

Oscar Trimboli:

Deep listening… Impact beyond words. 

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

I think waiting for meaning is something all … discerning whether that something actually has meaning in a conversation, has really helped me in non-deaf communities. Just realising, how much unnecessary small talk or beating around the bush we really do.

Oscar Trimboli:

In this episode of Deep Listening, I was delighted to spend time with Jennifer an Auslan interpreter for the deaf community. Exploring the conversation where Jennifer explain she was standing on stage in Hyde Park in autumn. And translating an extraordinary piece of poetry to a group of people who were in the dark, was quite moving. The energy that Jennifer brought to the conversation, really moved my perspective on what it means to listen deeply. I was humbled in the way that while she was speaking to me as a non-deaf person, she completely signed her way through the conversation. I’m sure that will come through in the interview.  

Let’s listen to Jennifer.  

Oscar Trimboli:

Welcome to Deep Listening. Impact beyond words. I’m so excited today to be interviewing Jennifer, an Auslan interpreter for the deaf community. She’s actually in the studio with me and she’s doing a beautiful job with her hand gestures during the dialogue and a part of me goes, the Italian in me wants to come out and sign along with her. I think it’s paradoxical though, because I think in the deaf community because they listen a body language so much more deeper than the non-deaf community. I think they can pick up on those ques without an interpreter sometimes.  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

That’s true.  

Oscar Trimboli:

And I think, because deaf community are so in tuned to the non-verbal signals, I think they’re listening on a frequency that the non-deaf community have no idea. What would you say, is one of the strengths either in a social setting that deaf communities have practises or cultures? Do you think non-deaf communities could learn from?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

I think, a lot of it is turn-taking. If you’re standing in a circle of group of people that are signing to each other and people start signing at the same time, obviously you can’t look at more than one person at the same time. Although you can slightly listen to two things at the same time although obviously not in an optimal level. So, deaf people tend to be quite good as well as generally maybe being blunt, they can say “Okay, stop. You go first. And then I’ll go, and then Sarah can go.” So they are really good at doing that and respecting the space and time that people have. And I think that … that’s … something that a lot of non-deaf people maybe would benefit from.  

Oscar Trimboli:

In your own practise, when you’re in non-deaf communities and you’re listening to dialogue. What practise do you bring from sign to make you a deeper listener?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

I think finding meaning with interpreting … as I said it, it’s not the words … interpreting for politicians especially is so much tough on top of everything they say … sometimes when I’m interpreting for a politician, they might start speaking and there’s so many roundabout ways you can start a speech. This is something like, we’ve all … we’ve noticed this, yes. This been quite a bit of things that’s happening in the space, there’s been a really big shift that’s been going. And you’re like “Okay”.   

And sometimes I can stand there and wait. So I knew that they’re generally talking about change, but I don’t really have enough to go off. I can’t start something, that’s very clear. And often people, such as politicians or managers, I find managers of big companies or banks, tend to look over you like “Are you not meant to be signing right now?”. You just, kind of, have to stand there, because obviously you don’t want to insult anyone. But they don’t realise that they haven’t said anything yet.  

Oscar Trimboli:

Yeah. What would be the sign for this managers’ faffing?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

There are ways of doing that. But I tend to try not to do that. I think, again, like you said deaf people can tell, they can see that perhaps the manager isn’t saying anything concrete yet. They’re good at picking up on that kind of thing and I think they trust interpreters. Which is really a large amount of trust, to know that we’re waiting so we can do clearest job we can. So I think waiting for meaning is something all discerning whether something actually has meaning in a conversation has really helped me in non-deaf communities. Just realising, how much unnecessary small talk or beating around bush we really do. 

Oscar Trimboli:

For those listeners out there, who aren’t familiar with Auslan or sign language for the deaf community, just talk us through a bit of the structure, it’s a very contextual language. And as you mentioned earlier on, it’s three dimensional… There is much more palette to explore language through in sign than there is possibly in English or Latin derivative languages. So, for those in the audience, just give them a quick sketch if you would of Auslan and how it’s constructed and how it’s used.  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

I’ll try my best. I feel like a deaf person is… would definitely be the expert. But I’ll give it a go. Auslan I think, has apparently a very similar language structure to Asian languages. So, the word order is different in terms of the verb… the doing word is often at the end of the sentence. So, what you do is you create the scene first, so you create the picture with the man and the woman and they’re sitting at the desk and talking. Whereas in English you might say, “They were talking, sitting at the desk.”. So, in some ways Auslan can be a very simple language in terms of grammatical rules. But it’s also intensely complicated and rich in other ways. And thinking in such a visual sense which… as non-deaf people is a very different way to use language.  

Oscar Trimboli:

So, the Jen’s story… Your family comes from a very different part of the world. Talk us through how they came to Australia? And how many in your family, what’s a typical dinner conversation kind of sound like for you?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

Well, I have my mom and my dad. And they were in search of heat basically. Which I always found such a bizarre concept when I was younger. Why would you move to the other side of the world purely for weather reasons? I have a brother. He’s four years older than me. And he’s a commercial airline pilot.  

Oscar Trimboli:

Okay  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

And as soon as we got on the plane to come to Australia when he was six or seven, apparently, he asked what this was and who was controlling this? And that was it. That is all he ever wanted to be.  

Oscar Trimboli:

Out of the four of you around the dinner table, who was the best listener in the family?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

I think, perhaps my dad. Because he says the least, which I think can often be a good guide to who’s listening. I think he… Everyone has their time I think to listen and I think a lot of it depends on the topic of conversation or what mood people are in. Because, obviously around your family you can be a lot more selfish than you have to be around other people. But, probably my dad, I think.  

Oscar Trimboli:

Okay. So, your journey to signing… How did that start?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

Well, unlike my brother. I had very little direction of what I wanted to do. And would… apparently, when I was a little girl, they would ask what I wanted to do and I just said I wanted to skip everywhere. I just want to skip all through life. That was my life goal. But it wasn’t until after I finish high school. I had a gap year and bumped into a girl that had left our school in year ten. And she said that she was studying Auslan. And I’d always been very quiet interested into sign language. Because I think a lot of people tend to be… perhaps learning the alphabet in primary school… I think a lot of schools do that in our school we’ve done that and I was really fascinated about it. But I had no idea you could study it. And so, meeting this girl and having no other kind of plans I started doing an Auslan course. Doing the certificate 2… and was just hooked immediately. And my teachers who are all deaf said “You know, if you keep going, you can keep studying throughout the courses and you could be an interpreter and you could sign every day.”. And that was that.  

Oscar Trimboli:

And what got you hooked?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

I just … It’s so expressive. It’s… I think it as I do like being creative. But I’m a terrible to drawer, terrible painter, I can’t sing or play any musical instruments but I love creativity. And I think Auslan is such a creative language. You use the 3D space around you. You create pictures out of concepts. Which is just so bizarre and so unlike English, which is such a linear, structured language. So I loved being able to use expressions, use pictures refer to the concepts in the space around you and set them up … I just find it so much fun. I really do find it a fun thing to do.  

Oscar Trimboli:

What are the contexts you’ve signed in already… some people begin “Oratorian” right up the front in broadcast mode, some are in meetings, some are in job interviews, some could be in hospitals. What are the kinds of situations you find yourself signing in?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

So many different situations… Especially with the role of the NDIS now, deaf people have a lot more control of funding and more funding is available for them to be able to request interpreters. Generally, I think I do most of my work in the corporate sector. So, team meetings, interviews, training, that kind of thing… based a lot in the city area, paramedic are… So, lots of work for government organisations, TAFE’s, universities, hospitals, GP appointments, rallies, dinner parties, lunch meetings, all of these things.  

Oscar Trimboli:

Which one of those contexts has been most memorable for you?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

I think, I really like things where… events with people passionate. So I tend to really like rallies. Especially if it’s for something that I personally believe in as well, I find that really empowering to be able to be a part of the rally more so than, just an attendee you get to give access to a bunch of people and let them feel included as well. So, I really like this. Because it is those situations where you feel like you’re making more of a change and making more of an impact.  

Oscar Trimboli:

Yeah. And who is the most powerful speaker at a rally, and what topic have they spoken on that you’ve had to translate?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

I remember doing interpreting for Get Up, the candlelight vigil for Alon Curtey, who was the little boy who washed up on the beach that was quite famous around the world, and that was the biggest event that I did in Hyde Park. I think there was around 12,000 or 15,000 people there. They had a lot of speakers, the Get Up speakers that they normally have. I can’t remember the fellow’s name, but the man that works at the Gosford Anglican Parish, who is quite well known for their boards and signs out in the front. He did a really beautiful poem, and I find poetry and songs are very difficult to interpret because there are so many interpretations to how people might read a song or poetry or how they express themselves and what that means to each individual person. So, we like to have a lot of time beforehand to work through that, read through the poem, try and think about the different interpretations, what the writers’ intent is. So, being thrown that while you’re on stage in front of everyone was a bit of a shock, but he was such a beautiful speaker that it was quite easy to connect with him and understand what he was saying.  

Oscar Trimboli:

One of the things that foreign language translators balance is the balance between being totally unbiased as an interpreter and yet bringing meaning. Some of them call themselves additive interpreters, and some of them call themselves subtractive interpreters, where they try to get to the absolute essence of the message. In sign, how do you stay focused during … so, let’s take you back. Hyde Park, it was at night time?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).  

Oscar Trimboli:

It was what time of the year?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

I think it was coming into autumn.  

Oscar Trimboli:

In autumn, so it’s probably quite chilly, and you’re standing up on stage?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).  

Oscar Trimboli:

And how long are you on stage for?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

It was about 40 minutes.  

Oscar Trimboli:

Okay. So, staying focused for 40 minutes, talk our audience through how you avoid distraction during that period of time, and stay totally focused, while listening completely, while signing, while getting and hearing the audience response to it, as well. There’s so many dimensions going on. How do you keep yourself on track, Jen?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

I think it’s the fear of losing it, because you know if you don’t listen, you’re going to completely lose the meaning. From past experiences, when you do get distracted… like, I’ve been distracted and missed things, and there’s nothing you can do apart from having to stop the conversation and say, “I’m sorry, I’ve missed that.” As an interpreter, you want to be as invisible as possible, you want it to be as seamless as possible. So, the fear of having to do that, especially in front of a huge crowd of people, is a big motivation to stay on top. I think generally what I try to do is, the person that’s speaking is normally standing next to me, because the deaf people… whether it’s in a doctor’s appointment or a meeting or on stage, they’d like to be able to see you and the speaker at the same time so their eyes can flip back and forth between you.  

So, it’s difficult to have eye contact with the speaker, which normally helps you listen when you can look at them. I find that I tend to kind of look down towards the ground at something that’s non-stimulating, so I can be as empty and as clear as possible to really listen to what the person said. We normally have a time lag of maybe about three to seven seconds, between what the speaker said and us putting it out into sign language, or in English if it’s going the other way.  

So, that gives us time to really listen for the meaning, which is the biggest thing in interpreting. It’s not a word for word translation, it’s figuring out the intent, so I tend to look down, have a minute to collect myself, try and really feel what that person is feeling. You know, when they walk on stage next to you, you feel the energy and you try and figure out what kind of a person they are, and that really gets me in the zone. When they start speaking, I give it a couple of seconds to try to get into the pace of them, and then go from there and just stay as connected as you can the whole time.  

Oscar Trimboli:

So, coming back to meaning, thinking about an experience where you went, “Wow, that meaning’s really powerful.” Do you have an example of how meaning making is the most potent thing in an interpreter’s task?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

I think, for example, in larger corporations, or I think in any kind of company, no one likes to use the word fired. In English, we know that there’s going to be a lot of restructuring around here, it’s not a good sign. People know that’s what that means, but if I was to sign a very literal translation of “restructuring”, that is a very… based on a physical remodelling. So, that would not be an appropriate translation. So, in those kind of situations, you would, what we call, unpack. When there’s a word and the meaning in English is one word, and it has a lot of connotations to it, but in Auslan you unpack that meaning, so you make those connotations very clear. So, if someone says restructuring, the deaf person … not all deaf people would think that, but it would be very easy to think that means a physical restructuring of the office, so you’d be very clear and say that teams are changing or managers will be leaving or there will be some staff cuts, is what you would have to say to get an appropriate meaning across.  

Oscar Trimboli:

Have you found yourself in situations where you’ve heard something for kind of the first time and you thought this was the meaning and then the dialogue has continued, the meaning’s changed nuance, and you’ve had to go back and explain that again? 

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

Yes, definitely. It’s those kind of situations where you have to let your pride go, as an interpreter, because you just want to be right, and you want to be as subtle as possible, but sometimes if you know that the meaning has changed or either that you’ve also misinterpreted it, I’ve read the meaning as one thing and later on then realised, that wasn’t it at all, I’ve completely missed it, then it is that moment of either … if it’s bad enough, having to pause the conversation and just say, “The interpreter has made a mistake, I just need to clarify something,” and going back and making that clear. 

Oscar Trimboli:

Yeah, and we don’t do enough of that in the work place in the non-deaf communities, when we do make meaning and we go really hard and we hold it really tight, and the meaning is all our meaning, as opposed to the shared meaning there as well, so a lot of the time, when you’re interpreting, you’re looking at the world through the lens of the speaker.  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).  

Oscar Trimboli:

And you want to be this kind of empty, unbiased vessel that’s communicating the most powerful meaning to serve the group. What I noticed was fascinating, the way you just described as the difference between having the attention on yourself and the pride, and having the attention looking out to those you’re serving and making sure you’re looking after them. Again, for those who aren’t watching and not in the room right now, the facial expression for Jen at that point, where she talked about pride, her whole face just cringed, as it did with her hands. I think this is the point we want to make is when we’re not listening, we’re probably pretty fixated on ourselves.  

When we are listening fully, we’re not only listening to who is speaking, but we’re also keeping track of the dialogue, which is this abstract concept of the dialogue, which is not the speaker. To what extent are you conscious of the meaning in the dialogue, which is the interplay between two people, as opposed to what one person’s saying and the other?  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

It’s hard, because cognitively, to be taking in something from the source language, interpreting it to first of all, understanding what they’re actually saying, and then putting that out in the source language is such a draining process, which is why interpreters normally, if the job is over an hour, there’s two interpreters, so we take in turns, because they’ve done lots of research, and the quality of interpreting really does start to decline after a while. So, we try to, around 15 or 20 minutes, try to cut it up before that, so we can be at peak mode for interpreting.  

Oscar Trimboli:

So, what I’d love you to do is summarise one tip for the non-deaf community that you think they can learn from the deaf community when it comes to deep listening? 

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

I think to just stop and check yourself. Think about what you’re actually saying, and I think that can save you from a whole host of sins happening.  

Oscar Trimboli:

What an extraordinary way to finish our interview. Jenn, you have expanded everybody’s horizons who has been listening today. Thank you so much.  

Jennifer MacLaughlin:

Thank you.  

Oscar Trimboli:

Wow. I feel like a fog has been lifted as I sat down in front of Jennifer today. The three-dimensional nature of Auslan, and the way she was able to express to me. Deep listening. Impact beyond words, how expressive that was. We decided to make a video of it, so in the show notes, you’ll see a link to the video, and I’d love you to see the expression that Jennifer brought to the conversation when she spoke about deep listening and impact beyond words.  

The energy that she brought to her dialogue today with me showcased the power of listening completely to body language, and that more than half of what you communicate can be interpreted through body language alone. Sometimes we over use our ears, so as you step out tomorrow and think about this, spend some extra time focusing on listening to body language. You’ll be surprised what you learn, and you’ll be even more excited about what you hear.  

 

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