The soundscape at my work is made up of talking and music. I have to communicate a lot – talking in particular. My job as a bridge person between sales and delivery, only accentuates that. Apart from meetings and discussions in the office, I dial into many conference calls with people I may not have met, holding animated and robust conversations.
I also like listening to music, as I (used to) write code and (now) crunch numbers. In fact, I’m listening to Zen meditation music as I write this blog. Music (and random noise?) has also played a part in me getting in and out of certain tricky situations at work.
My team member once forgot to switch his personal phone into silent mode before a conference call with our stakeholder from another country. He was already stressed out, being in the spotlight with most number of defects found in his code. Exactly at the moment he was asked, “Can you please present the root cause analysis?”, his phone rattled with an unusual ring tone – of a film song prefixed with a dialogue: “Start music!”. This became a case of lost-in-translation since the guy at the other end had no clue about the interrupting phone call and had assumed he was being yelled at!
I’m sure you have had to request – during conference calls – someone to go on mute when they inadvertently add an echo or an irritating background noise. I sometimes wonder if people dial into calls while binge-watching Netflix :). I too was a culprit on an occasion. No, I wasn’t enjoying a movie. Working from home that day, I forgot to mute myself as I got into an important call hosted by our vice president. I was standing on my balcony facing my neighbour’s house being renovated. The clattering noise of metal agonized the leader on the other end. At one point, he gave up and said, “Someone please mute. I hope this is not the sound of our customers hammering us”.
It’s not just my phone that I want to mute. Mostly, I struggle to listen during conversations, often interrupting with my own ideas and arguments. While I don’t want to offer any excuses, my role does require me to act as a catalyst and perform a certain level of moderation. I could do better for sure.
I recently learnt about the communication tactic of using pauses in a business discussion, from this BBC article the subtle power of uncomfortable silences. In a negotiation, such “a pause between someone speaking and your response can be a surprisingly power tool”. It talks about how silences are valued differently based on cultural contexts, for instance, how the “Chinese negotiators are very, very aware that Americans like to fill silences” with something and “possibly make concessions without the Chinese having to do anything”. And how it can help us “get beyond the emotional response and to start thinking cognitively”.
I also liked a Business Insider article describing how Steve Jobs used an 8 second pause while he responded to an insulting question about his strategy, with a deep and empathetic response.
I figured, calming music is all fine but it is still a distraction. Silence and stillness is what I yearn. I remember being introduced to meditation as a child but I failed to attain any level of focus or calmness. I should try again, more sincerely.
Perhaps I should start with depriving myself of any sound. The other day, I was tempted to buy the noise-cancelling headphone offered at a good discount. It was still expensive, so I gave up that thought of buying. Not before trying it out though. And I realized, even the $499 Bose equipment would only come close to – without actually delivering what I was hoping to attain in those few seconds. Absolute silence.
Maybe sleep would deliver it. As I finish writing this blog, I look forward to some sound sleep.
Only to be woken by an alarm.