Sunday, July 25, 2010

Radio Active

The last time I owned a television was in 1972. I was living in a group house in Washington DC and my TV was stolen from the living room one night during a minor break-in. After going through the predictable initial feelings of anger and violation, I reflected on how much I needed that particular appliance… and replaced it with a ping pong table—which turned out to be much more interactive, and a great deal harder to haul quietly through an open window.

Thirty-eight years later, I still haven't replaced the television. Instead, I listen to a lot of radio. Unlike TV, which is perhaps the ultimate conversation squelcher and a demanding mistress, it's possible to listen to the radio and still get things done. There are many tasks in my life that are repetitive—from canning salsa to making tempeh; from long distance driving to shaping boards for a woodworking project. I can listen to the radio while doing all these things, effectively allowing me to double track. Much as you can can pour a quart of water into a gallon jar filled to the brim with sand, I can fully enjoy radio programs without taking time away from other things. You can't do that with TV.

It also helps that my primary information input channel is aural. While many others are visual and some are kinesthetic, I depend mainly on auditory input. Thus, I can reasonably sit in a meeting and do hand work (such as shelling peas or peeling garlic) that requires most of my visual focus and not compromise my ability to track what's happening energetically. I can tell from very subtle changes in tone and pacing when I need to look up, both to better express compassion and to better gather non-verbal cues in delicate or volatile moments.

Note 1: Over the years I've come to appreciate that because many others depend mainly on visual input (for most folks it's the dominant pathway for receiving data), they tend to not trust that I'm tracking well if my eyes are directed elsewhere. If I'm identified as a crucial player in a conversation, I've learned to eschew hand work in order to offer more eye contact—not because I need it so much as I need to be perceived as tracking.

Note 2: As a professional facilitator, I take plenty of notes when I'm on duty, and part of the reason this works is that I don't need constant eye contact to track well. While I only refer to a fraction of my notes in the course of a meeting, having written them at all forces me to organize my thoughts, which pays off in more concise statements, better identification of themes, deeper insights, and more complete summaries. This wouldn't work if I couldn't take my eyes off the group from time to time.

• • •
When I'm listening to a baseball game—which I do a lot—I can generally discern who's winning and whether the score is close within seconds of tuning into the broadcast, merely by the tone of the announcer's voice. Who knew that all those early years listening to sports broadcasts was honing skills I'd come to rely on professionally!

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