Saturday, September 7, 2013

Zen of Listening (Book Review)

Listening is an often undervalued skill. Often you can do a better job of communicating what you want other to know by listening better to your audience. The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction is a very practical guide to understanding impediments to listening better, and improving your listening skills.

This is not a typical communications book full of techniques to help you convince others that you are listening. This book focuses on techniques to help you build a mindset to listen better. You'll learn how you think about interactions, and how that thinking affects how you respond.

This was a deceptively simple read. The book was easy to get through, but after you read each chapter you are left with a lot to think about. The book will leave you with insights that will help you to understand and improve your interactions with others. As you read, you'll understand both about how you listen, and why some interactions might bother you. With this information you can start figuring out how much you can change your approach to an interaction to get the most out of it.

In addition to stories, examples, and advice, each chapter ends with a few simple exercises to help you practice what the chapter discusses. In spite of the title, the explicit references to Zen philosophy and techniques are few. The importance of meditation as a way to help you learn to reduce distractions is a recurring theme. This is a very practical book with advice that you can start using immediately.

My one minor complaint about the book is that a brief discussion in the last chapter about the negative effects of online interactions seemed to be a missed opportunity. While it is good to keep challenges of various media in mind, it would have been a pleasant surprise to see a discussion of how the lessons in the book could be applied to make all interactions more effective. This  does not take away the value of the book, and perhaps applying the techniques to other forms of communication can be an exercise for the reader. This is worth a read if you are interested in learning more about how you can listen and communicate better.