Curiosity – finding out about each other through listening

It makes me smile to find that what we need most, we were taught when we were little children. For example, “Look right, left and right again, before crossing the road, and keep looking”, another being, “Keep your mouth closed while you are chewing.” So often these phrases whilst being correct, are also metaphorical. In the first instance, it could mean, take everything into account before making a decision and keep being alert to changes that may arise. Or, stop talking whilst you are taking-in what the person in front of you is saying.

How many times have you been in a conversation, and whilst the person is talking you are gearing up to speak, rehearsing what to say when they stop talking or pause for breath? And without you being aware, your mouth starts to open. Even this very subtle movement of your mouth is enough for the speaker to notice, and in doing so, interrupts their flow of thinking. They feel that you have stopped listening to them.

Can you recall those times when this has happened to you? You have noticed they have stopped listening.

How does that feel?

But, I can hear you saying as you are reading this, “But, I am sure that what I wanted to say will be important to them, or it can show that I understand them.”

Or, “I know what they are about to say”.

Do you? Really?

Or are you trying to say, “My thoughts are more important than yours, I know more than you do, and just stop talking and let me tell you what you are about to say”? You have lost interest.

When audiences are challenged with these questions, the answer I usually receive is that this behaviour is, “So rude”.

We don’t mean to be this way; most of us are good people, doing the best that we can, based on our experience and knowledge. We are simply unaware of our behaviour.

What does curious mean?

Being curious means moving into a state in which you want to learn more about someone or something, (sometimes this includes their worries and fears, pleasures and joys). Also, finding out something unusual or different, and realising it is worth the time taken to notice it.

I recall meeting a new prospect at his club. I asked for him at Reception and they were delighted to take me to him. I noticed that he greeted the Receptionist by name. I subsequently found out that he knew all of the staff by their first name. Not only that, he knew about their job, some of their personal lives and so much more. It was evident that he was extraordinarily loved by so many of the staff, yet he was just one of the members. I asked him why. He said one word. “Curiosity. I am genuinely interested in them, and in doing so they are interested in me.” Each of them feels heard, valued and their contribution matters. Does he get special treatment? You bet he does!

How can you become and remain curious?

  • Believe that for the duration of this conversation, the speaker is the most important person in your life.
  • Remain still and quiet throughout.
  • Believe that they have all the answers to any of the questions they may raise.
  • Wonder what is going on for them, at this time, in their life.
  • Keep your intention to understand uppermost in your mind.
  • Encourage them to speak more, by nodding, smiling, saying quietly, “Aha”, “Mmmm”, etc.
  • Should you need to clarify a point, ask a question, using an ‘open’ style of question ideally. (Be mindful of asking, ‘why’ though, as it can seem accusatory).
  • When they pause, count to three in your mind, and if they are still quiet, ask, “What more?” or repeat the last word or a word or two from what they just said. You will be surprised how many times you can ask this simple question. When there is no more to say they will smile and say so.

It is quite beautiful to watch how being curious, remaining silent, and deeply listening to a fellow human being, how easily they open up further.

They will

  • Greatly appreciate being in the safe space that you have created, where they are able to think for themselves, feel relaxed and less stressed, and to speak more openly and honestly.
  • Feel good because they have been seen and heard.
  • Usually share more than they would with others, and often sharing something they have never shared before.
  • Typically arrive at their own solutions.
  • Trust and like you more.
  • Be interested in you and be prepared to listen to you.

How curious can you get today?

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Are You Paying Attention?

Are you paying attention, really?

We say that we are paying attention, we even think that we are, but a sudden noise, a word from our colleague, or an incident unfolding in front of us, reminds us, often very quickly, that we are not doing so.

I was reminded of attention with three articles that appeared pretty much together. When something appears three times in quick succession, I take notice of the message.

The first was a short story (*1) concerns Dan Millman, Author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior, who was recognised and stopped by a student. The student explained that he had read Dan’s books, and understood that people were willing to pay highly for his consultations. He went on to say that he was a poor student and wanted to know what Dan could say in exchange for his one dollar. Dan smiled and offered the student six words.

“Here and Now, Breathe and Relax”.

My take on these words is that “Here and Now” highlights noticing where we are at this moment, essentially becoming present.

With “Relax and Breathe”, Dan is inviting us to stop, breathe deeply such that we can take in all that is around us.

Such words enable us to pay attention to what is here and now, to be present and through breathing and relaxing to open ourselves up to all the sounds and sensations that are coming up for us at this moment, internally and externally.

It is a great way to Be.

The second was from The Gottman Institute (*b) whose primary focus is on relationships. Through their research and their observing couples close up, they are able to accurately predict whether marriages will fail. Their conclusion is that “The most important factor for a happy marriage is attention. Small moments of positive attention.”

We often think that love and marriage is about external things, house, holidays, cars, entertaining, yet Gottman believes the opposite. Lots of small things, done openly and honestly, regularly and consistently, creates levels of closeness and intimacy that external objects will never do over the long term. Rather like a salary increase, which is great at the time, but diminishes rapidly.

The third was from Tanmay Vora, (*c) whose inspiring image heads up this blog post.

Tanmay makes the subtle distinction between giving our attention to others and seeking to get attention. He makes the point that great leadership is more about giving attention to others than getting attention. The latter arrives out of the former, but only if done well and with the right intention.

How do we give our attention?

  1. Stop whatever you are doing and turn and face your partner, or if in work, your colleague.
  2. Get curious.
  3. Look them in the eye.
  4. Listen deeply and fully. Listen to understand, not to reply.
  5. Remain silent and do not interrupt.
  6. Ask questions to aid further understanding.
  7. Resist the temptation to fix, advise or shift the subject.  Just be with whatever arises.
  8. Offer them your appreciation.

I care deeply about making a difference and I know that listening makes a huge difference to relationships, be they at home or in the workplace, and especially with children.

Some have described learning to listen and being heard as life-changing.

*a – Watch Dan’s two-minute story –

*b – The Gottman Institute –  and the article –

*c – Tanmay Vora – and the article –


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We are all Human Beings with our Own Story

“There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.”

Mary Lou Kownacki – Author

Today I was graced with the presence of a British Gas Engineer.

It is interesting how organisations are embracing technology and using it to help their clients have a better experience. On booking the visit, I was been told to expect the engineer during the morning. I have since been reminded by text when they will be coming and again yesterday. This morning I received a personal call from the engineer and a voicemail to tell me when he would be arriving and to call him if there were any problems. He used his name and his mobile number was shown on my screen, increasing my trust. All this setting things up for a positive experience.

He arrived on schedule, professional, with his ID being offered. A pleasant chap, keen to make sure all my equipment was as it should be before he started working. We had a short conversation and gave him his cuppa, and we both carried on working. He was polite, knocking on my door, to ask a question, and again to say he had finished. There was the paperwork to complete and sign. All of which was done.

It was obvious to him that I worked from home, so he asked about my work, or ‘my story’ as he called it. I explained I was a coach and my speciality was listening. He pondered on it for a moment or two and reflected that he had not heard of that before. We talked about listening and the differences between listening and hearing, and how we can create safe places at work so that people can speak up without fear of being bullied or humiliated. He related to what I had said and shared that it can be quite tough to do, especially in an industry which is male orientated. He went on to say that he had been brought up to believe that men should not show their feelings or their vulnerability, which, as he has got older, with a partner and three young children, he is beginning to realise is not the best way to be.

He had joined British Gas because of his skill in engineering but more so because of his love of people. As he said he never knows who or what to expect when he arrives at the customer’s door. So he works on adapting his communication style to fit the needs of the customer, which was lovely to hear. I was able to introduce him to Brené Brown’s TED talks, and also to the work of Marisa Peer and her thinking that, “We are enough”, and the shift that can quickly happen in an individual when they accept that they are indeed enough.

This all reminded me of a midwife I knew a while back. Here the stakes are even higher, she literally has no idea who will open the door and how they will be.   All she knows is the name, address and that they are pregnant. She has no idea if they are single, separated or married, happy or sad at being pregnant, whether the child is wanted or not, what social and family condition and/or constraints she is under, her experience and knowledge of pregnancy, and so on.

A midwife has to notice so many things, yet remain as non-judgemental as humanly possible. No easy task. She has to actively listen to everything that is being said, or not being said. Not just the words, but also the body language, the tone, the silence, the feelings and her ‘gut feel’ or instinct, she has learned to trust. She knows that being able to make that deep connection, to build that close relationship is paramount in the quality of the childbirth experience. If it feels safe and there is trust between them, the mum will feel comfortable in confiding in the midwife, her hopes and fears, her situation, her challenges and in doing so will be able to relax more, and because she is less stressed will be able to take in all that the midwife says.

Listening and being aware was also true during a recent call to the Government department, the DWP. The very amiable, professional and helpful lady listened to me well and was particularly supportive as I was unable to easily find my NI Number. Reassuring me that it was fine, to take my time, took all my self-imposed pressure off me. The paperwork was found in a sensible place, just not logical…well, that’s my excuse. I appreciated her kindness and caring at the end of the call, also saying that I had felt as though it was a human being talking to a human being. Something quite rare, yet thankfully appearing more and more in business.

Listening Tips

  1. Be fully present from the start.
  2. Suspend your judgements.
  3. Listen first, their words and tone.
  4. Listen some more, notice their breathing, pauses, body language, what’s not being said.
  5. Notice how you are feeling.
  6. Trust your gut and intuition.
  7. Above all, be human, because the other person is a human too.

Whose story will you listen to today? 

Who will hear yours?

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Why are we so unreasonable?

Why don’t we care?

“Put things back where you found them.” and “Clean up your own mess.’

All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum

As we learn about life we also learn a lot about ourselves. One of the ‘things’ that hooks me is unreasonable behaviour.

At my local gym, it is seen as OK or reasonable behaviour to take equipment out from its place against the wall, use it in the middle of the mat, and then just leave it there. To take weights from the weight stack and to put them in the wrong place (after all, they are numbered one to ten as a clue as to the order in which they need to be placed).

On the streets, it is seen as OK by some to drop litter or to throw it out of the car window.

In the coffee shop, where I am today, to have your coffee, cake or whatever and when you have finished to simply leave the cups and wrappings there. Walking past the bins on their way out.

To being served by a shop assistant, barista, receptionist, (or anyone who is in service to you), and to not even acknowledge or notice them, no eye contact, no connection, only seeking what you want.

Some may say we don’t have time, we are too busy, I have other things going on, all of which are excuses actually.

The words of Robert, above, highlight two lessons he feels have helped him in the World and made a difference (see the rest here, and I totally agree with him.

We can take the clearing up of our own mess, into far deeper places, and aligns nicely with taking personal responsibility for all that we do.

For example, when connecting with those who serve us, try looking them in the eye when they greet you, ask them how they are today, how is their day going, or appreciating something about them such as a happy face, or in the case of Baristas, the fluid like dance they have with the coffee machine when making our coffee.

Our kindness, little moments of connection, can and will make all the difference.

We rarely have any idea what is going on in another’s life, and even those closest to them are often surprised when they do something completely different.

We are all on our own journey and connecting with another human can make it seem just a little more manageable.

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Using our Eyes to Listen

In the middle of a busy Hotel reception area, no less, I was blessed to experience a most natural, nourishing and generative moment today. The rare moment of eye gazing.

The moment of stillness, silence and, well, nothing. Where time stands still, everything slows down and we notice descending from our head to our heart.

In that silence, you hear so much. You feel that the words arising from within are whispering to you.

This is listening deeply to ourselves. That rare time, when everything stops, and we get the change to check-in with ourselves, again.

Neither of you is doing anything, as there is nothing to do. It is in that space, an energetic one created by both of you, where it all happens.

Whilst I appreciate it can be difficult for some people to experience, or for them, to endure, but once you get out of your own way, it feels like you have arrived at a place of bliss and joy.

Many times you can’t help but smile at the other, or even hug each other.

Mostly they have happened sitting down, but the one time we were standing and was culminated in that very human moment of hugging each other. A deep hug that truly connects with the other. One that lasts long enough to take a breath and breathe it out, and again. A fellow human being travelling on their journey. A moment of recognition, a moment of being noticed, being seen.

I have experienced this moment a few times over the years and in different circumstances. Each time feeling similar to the last, a moment to treasure, (a moment that I can easily recall now, along with all the feelings that went with it).

During the most recent one, we both felt called to share a word or phrase that arose within us.   What was noticeable afterwards was how insightful and significant these words turned out to be for each of us.

Typically, these experiences can last anything between two and five minutes.

One time, the moment was so fleeting, yet powerfully engaging, lasting about a second or two. We both locked eyes and instantly connected. We both remember seeing the other and being seen by them.

This is where I guess, the phrase, “Love at first sight”, may come from, although this does not only mean romantic connections.

In each of these experiences, the relationship shifted and deepened, each in a positive way.

Of course, it was never just my eyes that were listening, it was all of my senses.

Who will you see today, or who will see you?

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Are you Hearing, Listening or Co-Creating?

Being in the presence of another, even if they are saying nothing, can bring more benefits than we could ever imagine, such as co-creating, be that in our personal lives or in our business,.

There are always unsaid responses when the subjects of deep listening, being present or being there for someone, are raised. Some of these responses are, “woo woo”, “soft skills”, or, “Oh this is just counselling”. These responses could not be further away from the truth.

It is believed that our deepest desire is to be seen and heard. I have this many times when speaking with senior managers, experienced coaches, and family and friends. We all desire to feel valued and to know that what we think and say matters.

A recent article about Buurtzorg, a Netherlands based company, providing nursing care in the community, discusses the merits and experiences of patients undergoing treatment.

Buurtzorg broke the mould in community care by tearing up the traditional process orientated, task-based, less human way of doing things, and created a locally managed, patient-centric, very human way of being and caring for their patients.

Whilst administering the same level of medication and high quality of treatment of the various conditions presented, it was the way they connected, interacted and received their patients that made all the difference. The results of which were that the patients recovered quicker, required less medication and overall fewer visits from the Buurtzorg nurses. The bottom line, of course, was a huge cost saving.

It was noticeable that the patients no longer felt like victims. They feel they are now in control of their own treatment and healing. Their nurses see their patients as equals, fellow human beings, just having particular conditions to manage. With the Nurse helping them to manage these conditions. In the traditional nursing situation, patients are often seen as just a number, a piece in the healthcare machine, something to be fixed, moved on, completed.

In saying this I am not diminishing the amazing work done by nurses, rather it is that so often the system and associated bureaucracy continually lets them down and stops them being, well, nurses.

In the Buurtzorg community, they are called clients rather than patients. They are treated as a person, a human being, someone with a brain, a heart, feelings and emotions. The clients feel valued and that they matter and this makes a huge difference to their healthcare.

For me this is co-creating. Where two or more people are working together, co-creating an outcome that benefits all parties and the wider community.

We can take this way of being easily into the workplace and into the home.

After all, we have diligently learned physical and cerebral skills. We are competent at doing many things, yet that which we crave the most, and need to give the most, is the one most difficult to find.

Research shows that the communication medium we use most often is listening, and yet this is the one in which we have received little or no formal training. The other three mediums are speaking, writing and reading. We use these much less than listening, but they are the ones in which we have the most formal training.

Interestingly, we are conditioned to believe that speaking is the way to succeed, and there are plenty of training courses available on this subject. However, how many people have lost a job or a sale for listening too much? Or, have you ever heard someone say, “I am going to give them a right listening to!” as opposed to giving someone a right talking to!

Think about it, and ask yourself whether you would prefer to have someone shouting at you, or to have someone asking you for your opinion, or your thoughts?

We seek to connect with others through social media and feel that because we have hundreds of connections or followers we will be happy and fulfilled. Sadly that is not true. The rate of suicide continues to rise, as does the rate of divorce and the number of people feeling lonely. And feeling lonely does not just apply to those in old age, it is happening to our youngsters too.

I enjoy social media, but to avoid the above issues my recommendation is to focus on increasing the quality of your connections, making them real, deep, and meaningful, rather than focus on quantity, where the interactions are minimal, superficial and curated (not being one’s self, rather communicating with each of your connections in the way you believe they want to see you).

What I realised more recently, through a great conversation with Hannelie Venucia, ( is that by connecting and engaging in this way we begin to co-create together. Whilst it may seem slightly strange that one person in the pair is deeply listening, yet appearing to be doing nothing, one might question and ask, “How can they be co-creating?” The answer is that they are bringing their presence to the dialogue, as you will see below.

The good news is that we all know how to listen, to connect deeply, to be empathic and to co-create. We have just lost the desire to do so.

What can we do to start co-creating?

  1. Set your intention to listen and be a co-creator. The key difference is that we have to intend to listen, whereas simply hearing can be achieved without even thinking.
  2. Start by going within and still yourself enough to really see and witness the speaker.
  3. Suspend your thinking and your judgements. And just ‘be’ with the speaker.
  4. Be curious and wonder what the speaker will say next.
  5. Listen to understand, not to think. The moment we start thinking about our reply, we have stopped listening, and furthermore, at this moment we are barely even hearing.
  6. Remain present with the speaker. Engage them with your eyes, even when they look elsewhere to think, as they will appreciate you when they return and look back at you. Keep your body open, resist folding your arms, crossing your legs, leaning back, and try to keep yourself still.
  7. Resist, resist and resist again the desire to interrupt them, just remain silent.
  8. When you think they have finished speaking remain silent a little longer. Offer, “What more?” Then listen and don’t be surprised when they start talking again. You can ask this simple question a few times. They may well get to the point where they say, “I have never told anyone this before….”.
  9. When they have finished you may wish to ask them questions about what they have said. Or repeat back what they have said, either word for word or by paraphrasing it. This will take the conversation even deeper, as the speaker now feels deeply heard, valued and that their words matter. You will notice them relaxing further, maybe even smiling. This is a moment not to be dismissed, as it is very unusual in today’s world.
  10. Once they have finished speaking it may feel appropriate to offer a few words of appreciation to them. They may be feeling vulnerable at this moment, having revealed and shared so much, so appreciation matters. (Appreciation is rare, and when it is done well it will land.) Don’t over think it, just say, “name, one thing I appreciate about you is…” Make it about them, who they are, what you felt in their presence, who they are being.

My kind thanks to Nancy Kline and her work “Time to Think”, which provides some of my inspiration.

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Listen Deeply and Often

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Every so often a word or a sentence lands, resonates and causes me to stop, think and wonder.

This happened today.

The words, “Acknowledging that what is said is important to the speaker”.

My gratitude and hat tip to Dina Dyer Owens, the words come from their code of values

It caused me to think about all the times I had stopped listening to someone, because I was bored, knew what they were going to say next, had heard it all before, or offer my answer to fix it or show how clever I am.

It caused me to wonder how many times I had dismissed what they were saying as unimportant, waffling, having no value.

It caused me to cringe when I think about the times I had shut down, walked off, or ignored someone simply because they were not thinking like me, speaking like me or behaving like me.

What an unfeeling, uncaring hypocrite I am.

Think about it though, how many times have you behaved this way?

How many times has this happened to you? It feels awful, limiting, numbing…..

One of the key questions I ask lots of people is, “When was the last time you felt really heard?” If I ask this to an individual or a group, rarely does anyone respond quickly and it takes a few moments of thought before the penny drops.

“Oh my goodness”, “This is far harder than I thought”, “I do recall, but it was a long time ago”.

The really interesting thing is that when they do remember, a smile breaks out across their face, as though they are recalling what it was like and how it felt. They often go away to think, as I call it, evidenced by them looking away from my gaze, maybe into the distance, gathering all the thoughts, feelings and sensations from that moment. On returning to me, they share what happened.

In one instance, a lady went right back to when she was starting on her career, some 40 years earlier. She had written, as in put pen to paper, envelope, postage stamp and a walk to the post box, and then the waiting. She had written to the CEO of a company, who she had just seen speak at a conference she had attended. The reply arrived, with an invitation to meet him at his offices in Birmingham.

What she recalled, fondly, was how for the first thirty minutes of their time together he gave her his full attention, asked her questions about her ideas, her thinking, her story, and then he listened, fully listened, all the time looking at her with a soft, warm, interested gaze, giving her time to think and time to share what was tumbling out of her mind and her mouth.

Even when she thought she had finished, he asked further questions that caused her to dig deeper into her mind, to bring out and share what she had only shared with her parents previously. She felt she could trust this gentleman, she felt safe in his presence, she felt that her words mattered.

She paused, smiled, drew breath and looking deep into my eyes, said, “You know what, Colin, I felt that I really mattered.”

Who will you listen to today, such that they feel their words and they themselves really matter?

Try it and don’t be surprised at what happens.

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On Being Still, Seeing and Being Seen

Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

Living in this fast paced, attention deprived, constantly distracted world, we are losing the desire, willingness and ability to see another or be seen by them.

This is true whether we are at work, at play or with our loved ones.

Having so much ‘going on and doing’, in our lives works against us in so may ways, our relationships are compromised, our decisions are made thoughtlessly and our own thinking is not heard by us or by others.

We can all hear (unless audibly impaired), but most of us rarely listen.

As I have said previously, hearing is passive, we hear without thinking, whereas listening is active, we have to intend to listen. “I hear from, I listen to.”

Yet, I am seeing many instances where face-to-face conversations are being replaced by email or messaging. I am a lover of technology and recognise how it has transformed connecting with each other when we are miles apart. I was at a wedding recently, where the Bridegroom’s sister was able to watch the ceremony using technology from five thousand miles away. She was able to feel part of it and the Bridegroom felt good feeling her presence.

In the same breath, I have seen instances of individuals sending each other messages about a meeting, whilst actually in the meeting!

“The same technology that brings us closer to those far away, takes us far away from the people that are actually close to us.”

If we show up for a conversation, only hearing, and need to have ‘technology’ on the table in front of us, the relationship will suffer. Research shows that the depth and quality of conversation will be lower.

So how do we show up to be seen and to see each other?

In considering this ‘how’, I am reminded of a practice at the Brahma Kumaris, where for one minute, on the hour, every hour, a piece of music is played into all rooms in their buildings around the World. During this time, everyone stops what they are doing, quietens themselves by focusing on an object, and notices their breathing, deeply and slowly. When the music stops they carry on.

They also use this practice at the start of a meeting and at the end of it. This enables them to begin it by being present and to at the end to digest what has taken place in the meeting, and to prepare for the next one. Also, anyone can call for a minute’s silence during a meeting, for example, to relieve tensions, for everyone to have time to think, and so on.

My experience is that in many instances we plan what we are going to say or talk about, but ignore how we are going to show up, be present, listen or understand.

Personally, it begins with my intention to still myself. Then an intention to be curious, interested in the other and be willing to listen to understand. I know that I will need to surrender myself such that I can witness the other.

I prefer to arrive for a meeting a few minutes early, to sit quietly, to focus on my breathing, to stretch and then relax through my body, and to let go of my ‘stuff’.

Secondly, I need to get still and quiet enough to notice what is going on in my head and my body. To tune in and listen to myself. How am I feeling physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually? Doing this enables me to notice all the chatter, the feelings, the blockages, that will stop me being fully present with the other and will stop me from actively participating in the conversation.

Acknowledging that my thoughts will continue to arise, my intention is that for this hour or two, the person in front of me is the most important person in my life, metaphorically of course, for this time, and to give them my full attention. To be non-judging, to see them as an equal, one who does not need fixing, but needing, as we all are, to be seen, heard and understood.

Whatever I notice arising inside gives me the opportunity to take care of it, share it with the speaker, (so they are aware of it), or mentally write it down to be dealt with afterwards. For example, if I am expecting an important call from a loved one, we can agree that it is OK for me to take that call.

I recall a lunchtime meeting, where my guest asked if it would be OK to have his mobile on the table, as he was unsure if his colleague would be joining us or not. As it happened, she did not call, but arrived a few minutes later. She arrived and explained that her client was at a conference that day and he was calling her randomly in break times and asked me if it would be OK for her to take the call or messages. What was noticeable was that as I was about to share with her the earlier conversation, I turned to my colleague and noticed he had now put his mobile away. I acknowledged their professionalism and respect that had been shown by both of them.

I had a personal experience where I was due to co-facilitate a workshop session at a conference. I arrived at the conference to meet my fellow facilitator, moments before having received a text message which had unsettled me. Knowing that I was unsettled and unable to be fully present, I explained the situation to my colleague. He listened deeply, asked a few questions and when I had finished asked if I wanted to hear his thoughts on what I had shared. I listened to his observations and advice, took it on board and made a couple of telephone calls. Relieved, I then knew that I would be able to be fully present for the workshop, something I know I would not have been able to do had I not shared it upfront.

In an ideal world, both people in a conversation would have prepared well for their time together. Both people will have stilled themselves enough to see the other and to be seen, and quietened themselves to hear the other and to be heard.

All too often though, neither is prepared. The result of which is streams of words being rattled off, little listening taking place, interrupting the other when they draw breath, allowing random thoughts to take them away from the conversation, misunderstandings galore, yet smiling as though the words have been heard and understood, when all the time being more concerned about what happened earlier that day or wondering about the next meeting.

Some argue that having fully engaged conversations, or rather dialogue takes too long and we don’t have enough time. Yet, at the same time, believing that it is OK to have follow up meetings to go through again what was said in the first meeting, not heard or understood, or decisions agreed to and not noted, or worst of all having to delay a project because of mistakes resulting from not listening.

I believe that the majority of rework in organisations is a result of poor listening.

On other occasions, one of the participants is prepared, quiet and still enough to see and be seen. What I have experienced is that this state can bring out the same state in the other, although it can take a little time to manifest. It typically starts with the equivalent of a download of everything from the speaker about what is going on for them. Remaining silent, not interrupting, and being fully present, eye contact, open body language, and a welcoming face, draws it all out from the speaker.

Even in the silence, where they draw breath, we remain still and quiet. It may not happen the first, second or even third pause, but it will. They will stop, they get still, they go quiet and they return the eye contact you have been sharing with them. Resist the temptation to say anything. In the stillness and silence, what will now emerge is likened to them being spoken. It is likely that what they say next will surprise them too. It may be prefaced by them saying, “I have never shared this with anyone before”, or they may say afterwards, “I had no idea I was going to say that”.

What will have happened is that your relationship from this moment onwards will have changed. The relationship will have deepened, become more trusting, become more authentic.

We have reached a point in our development, sadly, where we have little or no time for people. It is not that we don’t like them; rather we believe we don’t have the time, which in the long term will be damaging for society as a whole. We want sound bites that are quickly digestible. We want to be able to respond in our time, on our own terms. We want to curate our respond such that we are seen in the best possible light. So we armour up and project the image we want you to have of us. The last thing we want is to be seen, as we really are, scared, vulnerable, or real.

Never underestimate what difference you can make in a conversation, in a meeting in a relationship, when you listen. As one participant at a listening workshop said, “Listening is life changing”. He went on to say that he had already called his partner and apologised for not listening and promised he would listen more deeply to them and their young child.

A short exercise to try today when you get home

Agree that for the next five minutes, and time it, you will listen fully, deeply and silently to them talking about whatever they want. When they have spoken it will be your turn to do the same. Whilst they speak to keep your eyes on their eyes, even when they, ‘go away to think’, and even when they stop talking and go quiet, remain silent. Do not be surprised by what they may say. At the end of their time, reverse it for five minutes. At the end of that, look them in the eyes and offer one word of appreciation to each other, “name, one thing I appreciate about you is….” Don’t overthink what to say, just go with what arises.

Who will you really listen to today?


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Creating a culture in 2 minutes

Every time he captains a flight, Martin says he needs to create the culture for the plane within the first two minutes of the crew getting together. He knows this is paramount to ensure the safety of his crew, his passengers and his plane.

It was inspiring to listen to Martin Bromiley, (Captain for a major airline and Chair of Clinical Human Factors Group – ), at the recent National Freedom to Speak Up Conference, hosted by the NHS Guardian’s Office.

So how does he achieve this?

Martin is guided by, “How do I make it easy for everyone to do the right things?”

At the briefing, he begins by asking everyone to introduce themselves by their name, “No titles, we are all equals here”, he says. It is worth noting that most of the crew do not know each other and it is unlikely that this crew combination has ever worked together before.

“Anything you are uncertain of, doubtful of, a strange sound, a casual remark, anything that causes you to stop and think, wonder about or to be curious of, tell me, I want to know.” “Nothing is too trivial”.

How many leaders say something like that and don’t actually mean it?

Martin certainly walks his talk. So when anyone comes to him, he listens with intent, intent to understand and to pick up any underlying messages.

He takes what they are saying seriously.

He then personally investigates the noise, the concern, the worry, as he knows if he didn’t, (even though he may assume he knows the answer), then it may stop the next person speaking. Good news travels fast, bad news even faster.

How would you be feeling, knowing that your Manager or Leader has taken what you have said seriously?

At the end of the flight debrief, he singles out those who have spoken up, personally thanks them for doing so and that their willingness to be vulnerable is appreciated. He is also able to impart some of his new learning such that it is more widely shared.

How would you now be feeling, knowing that what you have said was valued and that your contribution mattered?

As Chris Voss, former FBI negotiator and Author of Never Split the Difference, says, albeit slightly tongue in cheek, “If I ever lie to a hostage taker I have to kill them, as if it ever gets out that I lie to get my way, I will never be trusted again by a hostage taker”. In reality, he never lies.

So my sense is that Martin’s way of being gets shared and compared and contrasted by crew members as they move from crew to crew, flight to flight, captain to captain.

Could we simply and clearly state it, walk it, discuss it, live it, be open to evolving it?

What is the culture you are creating for your ‘flight’?

Colin is also known as ‘The Listener’, a listening skills specialist and the ‘go-to’ person for individuals, teams and organisations, who want to be heard, think smarter, and transform their business and personal relationships through active listening. Contact him at or find out more at

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You’re Still Not Listening

It was all going so well. My partner was talking to me, I was listening, or so I thought, and then she gave me that look and said, “You’re not listening”.

On reflection, she had a point. Whilst she was talking, my thoughts were everywhere, the ‘mad’ driver on my way home, what are we having for dinner, and even dreaming about our holiday in two weeks time. So maybe I wasn’t listening. Next time, I said to myself, I will do better.

I did not have to wait too long. A couple of days later, she started talking to me again. This time I was prepared; I was going to really listen. And I did. If she asked me, I would be able to tell her exactly what she had said, word for word. “You’re not listening!” “Well let me tell you I was listening”, I said defensively. I proceeded to repeat, word for word, what she had just shared. Smiling quietly to myself I waited for her response.

“You’re still not listening”. Before I could say, but, but, what, she had gone.

What is going on?

I regard my partner as bright, intelligent and a good communicator, so for her to tell me I was STILL not listening, in spite of the fact that I could tell her exactly what she had said, maybe there is something else I am missing.

So I looked up the difference between hearing and listening, as after all, I was hearing perfectly well. I was amazed at the difference.

Hearing is passive; we don’t have to do anything. Unless we are audibly impaired, we can all hear. In a noisy crowded room, deep in conversation with someone, if our name is called out, we will hear it, whereas our conversation partner is unlikely to do so. We also notice our favourite song being played, even though we are in conversation with another. They say hearing is one of the reasons we sleep so badly in unusual places, on an aeroplane, or in a new bedroom.

Listening, on the other hand, is active; we have to intend to listen. For example, I am writing this in a busy coffee shop, there is music playing, the barista is serving customers, there are a number of conversations taking place at the tables around me, and there are people talking, whilst walking in and out. If I focus on what I am writing I do not hear anything. If I stop for a moment and tune into one of the conversations, I can hear them clearly, yet my concentration on my writing suffers. If I tune into the music I stop listening to the conversations.

What I notice when I now deeply listen to the music playing, to the exclusion of all other noises, it feels richer, deeper, more meaningful. I notice that I am fully present with the music and when the song has finished, I feel really connected with the artist and feel moved by the song. Maybe I have not really listened to music like this before.

Maybe I have not listened to my partner, as she has been telling me, maybe all I have been doing is hearing, and not very well at that either. What about my work colleagues!

The next time I get to speak to my partner, things really will be different.

A day or so later, I got my chance.

When she started talking, I put my mobile in my pocket; I turned and faced here, leaned forward and looked into her eyes, and this time listened. She talked and as well as hearing the words, I noticed the tone of her voice, the emotion in the words, the pauses, her facial expression, the way she was breathing, and the movement of her hands. I also noticed what I was feeling in my body, the sensations, the tensions, what I was picking up physiologically. I felt I was connecting with her for the first time.

I did not interrupt; I remained silent, yet all the time remaining present, with my eyes on her. Even when she stopped talking and looked away, when she returned from thinking and looked at me, she realised I was still looking at her, still paying attention.

I noticed that the more I gave her my full attention, the more she relaxed, her breathing slowed, she became calmer, she spoke more fluently. More importantly, she started sharing what really mattered to her, words that I felt came from a far deeper place. When she had been quiet for a while I asked her, “What more?” and she continued to open up, revealing more, going even deeper.

When she had properly finished, she smiled, and warmly said, “Thank you for listening”.

So many things will change for you and your conversation partner, be that at home or in the workplace, when you move from hearing to listening?

How differently you will see and hear each other?

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