The 4-to-1 Ratio

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We have a 4:1 input to output ratio on our head — why is it so hard to use them in this proportion?

Seeing and Hearing are art forms. Really Seeing and really Hearing are anyway. The act of observation. The art of listening. Even when we listen we are watching – what is the body language? what are the facial expressions? I read somewhere (I’ll look for it) that we pick-up on 200+ non-verbal signals when we are talking to someone. Even pupil dilation is saying something to us that we learn over time. If we are observant.

It is hard to do because it goes against our culture.

We live in a talk, write, speak, hear me, HEAR ME culture. Look at what I’m doing – making a blog post kinda criticizing the very thing I’m doing. The tools are readily available and basically free, so we are writing, posting and publishing our little hearts out. But it’s not just that our culutre has become celebrity (even micro-celebrity) focused, I think it is human nature to want to be heard, to be validated by our peers and superiors, and to be accepted into the club. Who doesn’t want to be thought of well? But our constant need to speak (in all it’s forms) is causing us to miss out on the rewards of observation, reflection and thought. And doing those three will make your speaking immensely more valuable.

Being observant means being outwardly passive but inwardly alert, curious and probing.

Paco Underhill talks about his observations of people shopping in Why We Buy and The Call of the Mall. Malcolm Gladwell is a master of observation in his reporting. Seth Godin observes the world of marketing (and business broadly) in his blog and book. It is the insights gained during patient listening, intellectually probing, and careful observing even the slightest details that allow these men to write about human nature in such unique ways. Yes, they have a craft at writing, but they have a craft at observing as well.

How do we develop the craft of Seeing and Hearing?

  1. Be quiet(er). Try the 4:1 ratio out (two eyes + two ears = 4 inputs). Next time you are in a conversation or a meeting, See & Hear 4 minutes for each minute you speak.
  2. Be present. It is easy to let our minds wonder about while someone else is doing something. Watched the airline attendant do the safety demonstration lately? Try to next time, and see what you can discern about him or her just by observing.
  3. Ask questions. Get good at this. We have a practice in our family called “highlights.” Each night (that we eat dinner together) everybody in the family gives their highlights from the day. We each do our best to give full attention, not interrupt, and then we each have to ask a question about the highlight.

Yes, that last point sounds a bit like parenting, but try it out. Take a week, or a day if that is too daunting, and make yourself ask a question of everyone who tells you something. Not everything mind you. If your spouse asks you to run to the store, then I would not suggest asking “why?” Perhaps a “can I do anything else while I’m out” instead.

No, this is for conversations…oh, you’ll know the right ones. Just try it out. Let me know how it goes.

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