Art of Listening

A few years ago I interviewed for a job that I thought was in the bag with only the requisite HR validation to seal the deal. And I failed the HR sniff test, with a cultural mismatch that could have leveled a Midwest city. Through the longer lens of time (and perhaps maturity, although I doubt that) I think I had proved that I wasn’t ready or able to listen, to learn their business, to understand the culture I was entering, and therefore I was creating my own impedance mismatch. It’s a mistake I have sworn to learn from.

I started my new job at Merck & Company on Monday. It’s a 35-minute commute each way when I have to go out to Whitehouse Station, which turns out to be a shade over an album side. I decided that I was going to spend that time in the car listening – just listening – to music. Not on conference calls, not thinking about a project, not mentally rehearsing for a staff meeting. Listening. Partly it’s because I have found that I’m using music as a Paul Lanksy-inspired soundtrack for whatever destination is in mind (Godsmack pre-hockey; Phish on the way to the shore; Rush on the way to pick up the Bubba) and partly it’s because I am going to be in full-on, aggressive listening mode for a few months while I learn the basics of the health care business, and then in serious listening mode for another two to three years until I understand it to some level of detail.

The best and only way to develop a skill is to practice it. And I’ve already found my mind wandering during the drive, thinking about a project or a to do item, rather than picking out a bass line or guessing the effects (tremolo or slow phaser) used on the guitar. I’ve discovered some new truths already: I don’t yell at other drivers nearly as much. A half hour in the car flies by with the right accompaniment. I really like driving my car (a hybrid that accelerates nicely and has reasonably good sound for a small passenger cabin).

I’ve been too quick to shuffle through music, rather than listening to albums the way they were conceived and meant to be experienced. Exhibit A: The new Queens of the Stone Age “Like Clockwork” took a few songs to get going, but it’s worth an extended and intense sit down. Take a mental floss break during Yes’ “To Be Over” and you miss some of Steve Howe’s most varied and intense guitar work (pedal steel, ES-135 and maybe one more in there).

And playing air cymbals during the bridge, stopped at a light on Route 508, gave pause to the driver next to me so I could pass him without any other exhortation of my own, besides a fine Alan White impersonation.

3 responses to “Art of Listening”

  1. Crow

    Please let me know when you are ready for some suggestions for your ride.

  2. psueltz

    Nice reflection, h. Congratulations on the new opportunity. Wishing you a fun adventure. p

  3. psueltz

    Nice reflection, h. Congratulations on the new opportunity. Wishing you a wonderful adventure. p

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