Listening, A Visual Art

I’m improving my listening skills. Listening to what is being said. And what isn’t.

When channel surfing, I occasionally stop, and watch three or four minutes of a poker tournament. Then I get confused and bored.

What fascinates me is how participants attempt to hide their “tells,” i.e., physical clues to their emotional state.

Not a scene from Casino Royale, nor Daniel Craig.

In “Casino Royale” Bond’s adversary, Le Chiffre touches his eye when bluffing. In poker tournaments, players wear sunglasses, hats, and scarves, ostensibly hiding their tells.

Regardless, someone eventually wins. Putting aside luck, I believe “reading” opponents more effectively ultimately separates winners from losers.

In the August 5, 2002 New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell penned an article, ‘The Naked Face’.

The article was memorable because it introduced me to “micro expressions,” the science of facial expressions and emotional reactions to which they are connected.

The article’s opening paragraphs describe  John Yarborough, a police officer. On patrol. 2AM. South Central L.A.

A kid jumps out of a parked car and pulls a gun on Yarborough, who does the same. Gladwell writes, “It was just a matter of who was going to shoot first.”

Yarborough chose not to pull the trigger. As did the kid. Why didn’t Yarborough shoot? Lowering his weapon contradicted his training, and his survival instinct.

It was something Yarborough read in the kid’s face. He knew the kid wasn’t going to shoot. A guess or did Yarborough see the kid’s tell?

The New Yorker article  describes, a test used while researching facial expressions. Volunteers watched videos of people lying, and telling the truth.

On average, volunteers could accurately discern who was doing what 50% of the time, no better than blind guessing.

When John Yarborough took the same test, however, his ability to distinguish liars from the honest put him in the top percentile, “one in a thousand.”

A summary of the article is here. If you have a New Yorker digital subscription, the entire article is here.

There’s a current ad campaign for a Citi credit card. One commercial shows a couple at the end of a first date. She says, “Call me tomorrow?”

He replies, “I’m going to send a vague text in a couple of days that leaves you confused about my level of interest.”

She responds, “I’ll wait a full two days before responding.” The tagline is: “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone meant what they say?

It would be great.

Part of my work on mindfulness is paying much more attention in the moment. It goes back to my mantra, “respond, don’t react”. (Thanks Frannie.)

When I’m upset I react. I’m overwhelmed by hurt, anger, defensiveness. I’m threatened and can’t see straight. Unlike John Yarborough.

When I’m actually listening to what is being said, verbally and non-verbally, I’m not flooded by “me”. And then I don’t react.

I respond.

Still a work in progress.

P.S. Here’s the Citi Card commercial.

P.P.S. May West once said, “I speak two languages body and english.”

Mae West, famous for being bilingual

4 thoughts on “Listening, A Visual Art

  1. I’m a big fan of straight talk. Let me assure you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. People don’t want the hear the truth. Being “real” doesn’t garner you loads of friends. It does sort out the weak pretty effectively, however. I’d like to be a good reader of people, but I’m not. I take people at face value. That doesn’t help me in the short term, but if I have any time to observe, fakers are liars and that I will catch soon enough. Which skill is better? Quick assessment or observed behavior?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice read. As a guy who’s had to make quick character decisions about my prospective clients in flaky Los Angeles, I totally use their microexpressions as a lie detector. In addition, there are numerous other tells– body language, voice stress and ritual mannerisms. There’s clothing and jewelry choices, pet and child behavior. The way they treat waitresses. The list goes on and on– an observant person can learn a lot about another without ever asking a question. I wonder if it works as well when you look in the mirror?
    But why listen to me? I ramble.

    Liked by 1 person

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