Thu | Jan 21, 2021

Trevor E.S. Smith | Listen with your eyes for 2020 vision

Published:Sunday | January 12, 2020 | 12:00 AM

Emotional intelligence, social intelligence and people skills are concepts that are being bandied about and are deemed to be essential ingredients of success.

When colleagues describe their latest conflict, they often point out that the root cause is that the other party lacked one or all three of those competences.


Through decades of active working with interpersonal relations, there is one competence that is widely overlooked, but yet is so central to healthy relationships.


Listening is far different from hearing. It requires training and practice, and is a skill that is in short supply.


If we are in an important conversation, we take care to tune in our ears to ensure that we hear every word.

That is good. Inattentiveness is a relationship killer. Failing to listen is also the cause of so many misunderstandings, costly error and conflict.

However, finely tuned ears still miss a chunk of what is being communicated!

Whether it is really seven per cent or not, it is clear that words do not represent all that is being communicated.

When we develop our capacity to listen with our eyes, we get so much more from our interactions.

We become demonstrably more socially and emotionally intelligent, and our people skills are dramatically improved.


1. The eyes add facial expressions to the message.

Did I just see a brief flash of anger and frustration that detracts from the warm conciliatory words that are being spoken?

Should I understand that the signs of suppressed snickering is an indication that my proposal is not being seriously considered, despite the encouraging verbal sounds?

Do eyes that are filled with compassion provide me with comfort that I will not have to endure the drastic fate that is being threatened in words?


2. What have my untrained eyes missed from what the body language is telling me?

Hello, Don Juan, her tightly folded arms across her chest is a clear signal that your romantic lyrics need to be updated or you are simply in the wrong place.

In my youth, it was the norm for one young man to actually dance with one young woman!

Getting to dance with a partner required high levels of social intelligence. Young women would be on one side of the dance floor and young men on the other side.

A successful night was a function of your capacity to identify which young woman wanted to dance which song, and with you!

Having your invitation to dance turned down could spark a chain reaction and leave you as a hapless wallflower for the rest of the night.

I was pretty good at getting dances because I learned to develop my social eyesight – innocent charm aside.

A tapping of the feet, or better yet, some dance movement, might be an indication that this is the right song for this target (ouch, target?).

The next challenge is to determine whether her interest in dancing could be with me.

My reputation and ego, let alone my night, rests upon how I navigate this next step.

Here again, the eyes have it.

If somehow I can make eye contact and receive the subtle signal that I can try, then I might proceed successfully.

Bear in mind that I am not getting an open ‘Yes, please come over’ signal. Reputations are also at stake there. What if she gave an overt yes signal and I did not accept it? What a blow to her fragile ego!

Interpersonal relations is a minefield at all ages.


It made sense to ensure that you connect with your preferred dance partner (sounds better than ‘target’) at the outset.

The jealousy and spitefulness that we see among our colleagues today were honed as teenagers.

“So, you asked Mary to dance before me. I am not second best. Go back to Mary!”

Just like how it might take an eternity to correct such errors of judgement. Pride is such a deterrent to healthy relationships.


3. What is it about Susan that is so endearing? Why is she so well loved?

You go to work and you feel as if you have been through the wars. You would rather be at home.

You go through the better part of the morning until you encounter Susan. Immediately, she takes you by the arm and delicately enquires about what’s going on with you.

Unlike your socially blind colleagues and the boss who just ‘raced you up’, Susan’s social eyesight saw that you were not at your best and she took action that was inspired by her empathy.


Out of deep concern about the lack of effective listening skills, I am offering a copy of our publication DISCerning Listening at no cost. Simply send an email request to with ‘DISCerning Listening’ as the subject line.

Trevor E.S. Smith with the Success with People Academy. We guide the development of high-performance teams. We are interpersonal relations, group dynamics and performance-enhancement specialists. We provide learning and productivity-enhancement technology solutions. We offer behavioural assessments from Extended DISC, values assessments on the FinxS Platform and e-competency frameworks and e-onboarding solutions in our SPIKE technology platform. Email