Do you know someone who is a great listener? I do! Whenever I speak to her I feel that she is really available and it makes such an enormous difference. I feel really heard. Optimistically we would hope that this is how we carry out most of our conversations, but I think realistically we know often this is not the case. We know that at best we are offering most people distracted listening.
When I work with organisations I feel that coaching on mindful listening is the one tool that potentially will have the greatest impact. The pace of our life certainly does not encourage good listening. To add to that we also have the “beeps” and “pings” and all sorts of noises that take us off our path of really being available when someone talks to us. So how do we regroup? How do we get this important skill back? It takes practice just like any other skill.
A great practice for teams that they use at Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Insititute is to get into pairs and to let them talk for five minutes and get their partner just to listen. No questions, no “that happened to me”, just listening. I love hearing people recount their experiences after this exercise. “It was so hard not to ask questions”, “I can’t believe how much I remembered”, “I think I understood them better.” It is also important to note that as well-meaning as our questions might be they often derail what might have been important for the person to tell us. Maybe in leaving us the person did not have a chance to get that “something off their chest.”
After the exercise I often ask the groups I work with to practice “stealth” mindful listening. To pick a day and really focus on listening. So you might ask some questions so your cover won’t be blown but you will be really conscious of not interrupting, really listening and not perhaps thinking about what you will say next. Again the feedback is amazing about how much more they heard when they spent a day practicing this, not just with their work colleagues but maybe, and more importantly, with their families. With our long term relationships we can really get stuck in the pattern of being the talker or the listener, and the value of taking a chance to walk on the other side may provide opportunities in itself.
Perhaps you can decide to listen today. Do you hear what I hear?