In a conversation this week, I had one of those ‘Aha’ moments, when suddenly so many things started to fit into place.
At a recent event on being asked that lovely question, “So, what do you do?” I replied, “I am The Listener”. In silence, she looked at me. I continued, looking her full in the eyes, “When was the last time you felt really heard?” I knew that my question had been heard, but was not sure if it had landed.
Because of the event now starting we were unable to continue talking. A little later, we broke up to work in smaller groups and I was again with the lady I had spoken to previously. We were encouraged to let everyone in the group speak on their initial thoughts. As each person spoke, I gave them my attention, looked into their eyes, and was interested in what they were saying as well as curious as to where their thinking was taking them. When they stopped speaking and before the next person spoke, I managed to ask a question about what they had been saying and encouraging them to speak a little more. This was also done with the lady in question. Later that evening she found me again and said that she now understood what I meant when I said I was The Listener. She said that she had felt heard by me, and really appreciated my asking her a question and being interested in the answer before we moved on to the next person.
At another event, where the intention was to encourage more collective dialogue, it was proposed that individuals should speak as and when it moves them, and to make sure that whatever they were saying built on what had been said by the previous person. What appeared to happen was that one person spoke, another spoke saying, “Building on what x was saying….”. which would have been great had it been true, sadly it was not. In most cases, their point of view was not connected to the previous speaker at all. It felt as though the first person speaking had said their piece and then been abandoned. I appreciate that I am maybe making a mountain out of a molehill, but is this not what happens all the time? On sharing this observation with the facilitator, he replied, that to have had a really ‘connected’ dialogue as I was suggesting would only be possible in advanced teams of people. I was a tad shocked to hear that, in that what I was proposing seems to me to be a mixture of respect, equality, time, attention for our fellow man, not the behaviour of an advanced team.
Earlier this week I was discussing true listening. We can all remember those moments when the person sitting opposite us is truly listening, hanging on to our every word, looking us in the eyes and giving us space and time to speak. And then the silence, when we stopped speaking, and they did not start, they just kept looking at us. So we continued speaking and then we stopped, and again they did not speak. This time though, when we started speaking, thoughts from a lot deeper place came forth, words that we had not planned to say, ideas we had never expressed before, and we started to get into flow. Our voices changed, we became more animated, we were sharing our thinking. And all the time we were being heard. When the conversation finishes, we come back to reality, and we wonder what happened. Usually, what we then say is, “Thank you for listening, I had no idea where that came from, thank you”.
The sad part is that most of us have become caught up with this fast-paced world, where short, sharp meetings are the norm and if you don’t get in there and scrap then you are a wimp. The downside is that there is very little listening going on, most people are simply waiting, some more impatiently than others, to say their piece. This can result in time being wasted having to go back and ask, correct the mistakes that were made and so on.
My ‘Aha’ moment was when I realised that it is not that we don’t know what it feels like to be really heard, we have simply forgotten. Once we remember, through having an experience of really being heard, everything changes for us. We notice what is happening in meetings, around the coffee area, at home with our children and with our partners. Not being heard now starts to feel uncomfortable and even morally wrong. As a result, we start to make small changes ourselves. When someone, like one of our children, wants to tell us something, we stop what we are doing, turn and face them and look them in the eyes and wait for them to speak. You will be amazed at what comes out without our interruption or intervention.
We cannot do other things and listen at the same time. Our children, of all ages and until they or we die, need us to listen to them. Listening is right up there with food and air. And love. Actually, it is love. “More Time to Think” by Nancy Kline