Powerfully Quiet

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The Silent Hero, Part 2

At the edge of words, perhaps disguised by practiced tone or chosen vocabulary, lurks the ever-present shadow of emotion. Whether we’re listening to colleagues or a conversation among friends, feelings are there, drifting on the peripheral of spoken dialogue. As leaders and champions of others, we must be willing to tread that edge. We must do more than simply listen—we must listen with empathy.

Empathetic listening means exploring the peripheral of our interactions. It’s the skill of searching beyond spoken words—of searching for connection. While vocabulary remains important to how we express ourselves, the subtlety of emotion is how we reconcile divides. Recognizing emotions helps us transcend a state of comprehension and glide through the threshold of awareness.

Identifying with detected emotions doesn’t mean that we insert our own stories or biases, however. Rather, like The Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi quietly listened to Daniel LaRusso, it’s about awareness. While Daniel regularly expressed a range of emotions, it was Miyagi whose unwavering, supportive composure became iconic.

Explained here by Communication Coach Alex Lyon, this doesn’t mean that we offer our time and compassion exclusively for emotions bordering on the morose. Rather, empathetic listening means that we relate with the emotions of those talking with us—including feelings of joy and excitement.

As with Nintendo’s celebrated silent protagonist, the adventurer Link, audiences have come to admire him not because of speeches or advice, but because of a connection built upon empathetic silence. The silent hero strives to be aware of surroundings—of what is both said and unsaid, as discussed here by Todd Davis, CPO of FranklinCovey.

So too should we endeavor to surpass even active listening and discern the feelings left unspoken. Only then can we understand the people closest to us. Only then can we truly be a hero to others.

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
– Arthur Ashe

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