Ben Black, Director

Dinner Party Politics and the Ability to Listen

Ben Black, Director

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What exactly does being retired mean?

As Ben's father you can guess that I am 'retired'... a word I dislike and which did not exist 100 years ago. To me it almost sounds like 'the end'. Personally I just see it as another chapter in life to be attacked with the same drive and intensity as any other stage.

I think we all know that our society can be very ageist - I stand by the view that people at every stage of life (young and old) have something to offer (even if we don't all use Twitter or Facebook) - all of which brings me neatly on to the heavy focus on "gender" in life and in the business world.

I have met many outstanding women. I was fortunate to know Mrs Thatcher, Mrs Dassler (a strong power at Adidas in their formative years) and Princess Diana visited one of our factories. The list is long but it is important to note it is not only about the well-known and famous - Alison, my secretary is intelligent and a real 'can do' person. For me, the gender of a person is not important, it's character and personality we should seek out.

Many people who Ben works with know him well - and many more will know something of him through reading his Blog. But not many will know the influence Ben's mother, another truly outstanding woman, has had on his life and how she has helped shape Ben into who he is today.

Madame Noir

Sue Black, or, as she is known in France - "Madame Noir" - is an exceptional woman. She is the mother of four and grandmother to 12.

I will no doubt be in trouble for causing her embarrassment by listing a few of her many talents, but I will go ahead anyway!

She is driven, well organised, intelligent, passionate about those she cares about, attractive, and she is disciplined with her routine (she's up every morning at 5:30am!).

When she has some leisure time (after making sure everything runs like clockwork) she loves to meditate, paint (modern art is her forte) read, and play bridge.

But through everything she knows how to communicate. When to listen and when to contribute to a conversation, when to give advice and when to step back and let someone else take the lead.

There is absolutely no doubt where Ben's thanks for his many talents should be aimed... Madame Noir!

Dinner guests and party games

I take some pride in having invented a new dinner party game.

For some reason I always seem to find myself sat next to the same lady when we visit certain friends. I know more about this lady's children than those of my closest friends! For her part, she has no idea whether I am married or how many children and grandchildren I have. She talks incessantly but almost never asks a question.

The game I invented is called "Social Cricket". Every time I ask a question I gain one run. Every time I answer a question I lose a wicket. The first time I played I was 27 without loss when the coffee arrived!

The value of listening

The point I am trying to make is - we should recognise the importance of listening to good communication... it really does promote a better understanding of people and enhances relationships. Many of us (I hold my hand up here and admit I am often guilty in this respect) think that communication is simply talking - but good communication requires good listening as well as talking.

We are often all so busy interrupting, advising, reassuring, analysing, criticising, arguing, moralising etc. An easier way to think about it is - we have two ears but only one mouth, so maybe listening is the more important skill and one which we should all practice.

It's not the age or gender of the person that's important - it's their character and personality - and to find out about these, learning to listen is the key.

Thomas Black

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HR and diversity professionals.