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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Why is your mobile out in any conversation?

On my way to lunch with a colleague he explained that the other person joining us might not be able to make it, as she was having challenges with one of her clients.

On arrival at the table my colleague took his mobile out and explained that he wished to have it on the table because his colleague had said she would call him if she were not going to able to be with us.

I said thank you and said that this behaviour was both respectful and unusual. Respectful in that he explained to me why it was on the table, and unusual as it is typically assumed that it is OK to not only have it on the table but to be looking at it and even receiving/ replying to messages and calls.

After about ten minutes, his colleague arrived and she firstly apologised for being late and secondly, she too asked it would be OK to have her mobile on the table as her client was at a conference and she was expecting further questions. Again I said thank you and said the same things as I had said previously to her colleague. When I looked at her colleague he had put his mobile away.

I noticed this and thanked him for doing so.

In another organisation, the CEO has taken it upon herself to visibly turn her mobile off and put it away whenever she is in conversation with any of her people. Without saying anything about what she is doing, she has noticed that little by little, more and more people are doing exactly the same.

How do you feel when you are in full flow and your colleague’s mobile rings and they simply answer it, sometimes mouthing, “sorry” and nodding at you?

What about when you are listening, looking at the speaker and paying attention, and your mobile flashes a message. Do you a) ignore it, b) apologise for it being on the table, turn it off and put it away, or c) pick it up, read it, and then reply to the message, at the same time smiling at the speaker, saying, “I am still listening, carry on”, and then looking back at the message you are typing?

The reality is that when you see it written down like I have done, your first thoughts maybe that you don’t do this…..and are therefore surprised that your colleagues tell you that you do, a lot!

When we consider this fully, both the speaker and the listener agree, it is disrespectful and simply rude. So why do we put up with it?

What to do?

  1. Make an agreement not to have mobiles turned on or on the table, unless there is a very good reason, which in my opinion is very rare….I grew up in the days before mobiles!
  2. Agree that the speaker respects the listener’s attention, and they will keep to the point and be succinct. In response, the listener will give the speaker their full attention, will maintain eye contact, will not interrupt, and will let them go silent, to enable further, deeper thinking to emerge.
  3. That the agreement is reciprocal, you get to switch roles and the same rules apply.


Try the above with a colleague or your partner, and set a time, 5 or 10 minutes, where one can speak, uninterrupted, even if the speaker goes silent, in fact, even if the speaker is silent for the whole time. Knowing that you are being witnessed whilst you are thinking can be quite profound. The only support that the listener can offer, is when the speaker goes quiet for time, to ask, “What more?”

By the way, at the beginning the set time will seem a long time….until you finish and it will then appear to have been very short.

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Reflections from The Listener

Do you think Mo Farah is hurting during the last 300 metres of any race he is in? Do you think the other runners are also hurting? Yet he wins more races.

Mo came up in conversation with my good friend, Guy Ellis recently, as a metaphor for much of what we do in life.

It got me thinking and wondering.

Mo did not just wake up that morning and decide to take place in a serious race and expect to not just compete but to win it as well.

This is the culmination of everything he has done in his life, including his physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects. It also takes time, lots of time, his daily habits, getting up on those days when he does not feel like it, continuing on those days when he fails, pushing through the pain on those days when he falls, and breathing in the joy on those days when everything just flows.

It reminds me of the plumber who is asked to fix a block in a tank, and he spends one minute looking and thinking, then hits the tank once with his hammer, and the block is cleared. He charges £100. On questioned about why one hit of his hammer costs £100 he replies, that it costs £1 to make the hit, and £99 to know exactly where to make the hit.

For me as The Listener, this applies to me too.

When I ask a Cashier or the Barista, “How are you today?” One might share with me that she is not great, her boyfriend is making her life difficult since they broke up and how the Police are now involved. Another might smile warmly, (it feels as though he has asked the same question many times that day and the majority have not bothered to answer, and I am the first to ask him how he is), chat to me about his day and then tells me that my coffee is, “On the house”.

What is going on?

It can’t be just my words, although they help, of course, but it is my intention to want to know, the openness of my posture, my eyes looking at his, the honesty in my voice, the curiosity of the tone, and so much more.  They feel it and deep down notice it, and that makes the words sound and feel different to them at that moment.

It is not me doing listening it is me being a listener.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Chinese philosopher Laozi c604 BC

How will you begin your listening journey?

What can you do more of today….be curious, be attentive, be present?

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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No Saber-toothed tigers around here!

Imagine this.

It is 2.34am and you are asleep, your mobile ringing wakes you up, it is your daughter. She is calling you from where she works as a Children’s Nurse in Accident & Emergency. You answer. She is breathless, in a panic, and crying, and is repeatedly shouting, “I don’t know what to do!” She tells you that a young girl has just died and she has to go back in and sit with her parents.

What would you say or do?

How about simply listening. Listening. Not trying to fix her problem, not trying to take away her pain, just allowing her to be. Holding the space for her to let it all out.

The result.

After about 6 or 7 minutes, she took a deep breath and said, “I am fine now, thank you. I know what I need to do”. She went off to see the parents…I took an hour or more to get back to sleep.

What we are talking about here is the Master skill of communications – Listening,

Remember the time when you were speaking to a colleague. They were looking at you, nodding in response, yet you knew they were not listening. Turning that around, remember the time when your partner or child was speaking to you. You were looking right at them, nodding, yet you know you were not listening. We are all guilty. We have learned how to fake paying attention, fake being present, fake listening. Yet both sides know we are faking it. We are only hearing them speak.

Think about the last time you were in a team meeting or even the last Board meeting. How long was it before you said anything? Before everyone had a chance to speak again, did you get the opportunity to speak, even to just say a few words? Did you get the chance to share your thoughts? Was there so much interrupting going on it left you wondering if you could be bothered to speak? Did they allow you to sit in your silence, waiting curiously for what you were about to say? Could you feel them actively listening, safe in the knowledge that you would not be interrupted? How might that feel like?

We actually know how to actively listen, yet nowadays we do not feel it to be important enough to do so.

As a species, since man first arrived on this earth, we have learned how to actively listen. Without this skill, our survival would have been impacted. Being conscious of all the sounds around us meant that we would be aware, immediately, of anything that could kill us so we could take action.

In addition, we needed to fit into the tribe, as being excluded could be catastrophic as to our seeing another day.

Nowadays, whilst we still seek to fit in, we have no need to worry about the infamous ‘human eating’ Saber-toothed tigers. However, we do need to compete, head-on in the dog-eat-dog of the business world. In fast-paced meetings, every pause we make to take a breath or to think creatively is taken as an opportunity for someone else to speak and to make their point. In many cases, before we even finish our sentence, someone has interrupted our train of thought, offering their idea of what we were about to say or something completely different.

At its simplest level, active listening requires us to pay full attention to the speaker. We need to look into their eyes with curiosity and interest. And, to remain silent when they are thinking and not interrupt when they do speak. Listening is a skill that can be learned

Listening increases the quality and depth of your relationships, develops a higher level of trust between the two of you, and enables the speaker to feel heard and to think better

As I delve deeper into the listening and thinking space, I realise how much I too have been missing from my conversations.

How about you?

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Taking ownership for our actions and dealing with them

This is a great learning post for me to write.

It is sometimes not what we do, it is how we respond to what we do. This, for me, is one of those moments

I had arranged to meet a good friend in a local coffee shop, Workhouse Coffee in King Street, Reading, one that is dog-friendly. I arrived earlier and ordered my coffee.

“£2.90 please”, said the Barista.

I offered her my card.

“Sorry, we have a minimum spend of £5”.

“Oh”, I said and gave her one of my ‘dark’ looks, (anyone who knows me well will understand, and I’m embarrassed to say, “It’s not nice”).

“What am I to do then?”, I asked coldly.

“Well, you could buy a pastry, or go across the road to the cashpoint”, she offered nicely.

In spite of me having cash in my pocket, and knowing that in the grand scheme of things walking across to the cash point would have not been a big deal. Not me, I just stood holding out my card, still looking ‘that look’, stupidly expecting her to suddenly change her mind and accept it.

I turned and left the coffee shop. Her colleague, who was in the middle of making my coffee, offered me, “Have a good day”. “Whatever”, I thought.

I walked outside and thought, now what do I do? Right, got it, sorted, I’ll send a message to my friend, to say we need to meet somewhere else. He was nearby so messaged to say he would see me in a minute, insisting that we, or rather you, need to go back. In my mind, there was no way I was going back, but deep in my heart I knew he was right, I needed to go back.

So he arrived, I sort of smiled about it and we went back in.

“I have solved it”, I said, meekly and desperately trying to contain my embarrassment, “I have found someone else”, a half-hearted attempt to retain my ego, and judging by the look on the Barista’s face, failing miserably.

We took our coffees and chatted, not mentioning the episode.

I am not sure about you, but my mind works overtime on my behalf, helping me out, giving me answers, solving my problems, and giving me nudges and sometimes sharp kicks that something needs to be done, and done now. And so it turned out on this day too.

As we were finishing off, I knew what I needed to do.

I went to the counter, looked at the Barista, and asked, “Could I have a word”.

She replied, “You want a quid?” (Just when I thought it could not get any worse!)

“No”, I said politely, “I would like a word with you please”.


“When I was first here, I was extremely rude, and for that, I am very sorry”.

“I appreciate that the rule on minimum spend is not your decision and I should have respected that. Nothing you said or did was rude, aggressive or wrong, you were simply explaining to me your position”.

“I take ownership for my words and actions, and once again, I am sorry”.

“Oh”, she said, “thank you. That means a lot”.

She was very gracious and generous in her response.

On leaving I said that I would be back, after all, there were so many good things about the place, the coffee is great, the staff and the environment are welcoming and they have an amazing selection of pastries.

On reflection, it was important for me to get off my high horse, as my Mum would say, it was good for me to be humble, it was vital for me to have owned my actions and even more so to have genuinely offered my apologies.

Thank you Alex Pidgley for helping me to learn a lesson.

Colin Smith, more often known as The Listener. Helping individuals to feel heard, think better and to learn how to listen.

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When the System Lets Us Down

Nobody likes to get let down by the system, especially so my daughter who is doing what she loves, being a Children’s Nurse, working in Paediatric A&E.

It is a special relationship we have, as we get to engage most days. During these times she often shares what life is like during one of her twelve hours shifts. She may have the odd quiet day, but mainly her days are full on, and I mean full on.

She shares some of the highs and lows, the excitement, the challenges, and of course those sad moments. We have a relationship where she can share whatever she likes, however dark or difficult, which includes some choice language at times. Even more so during my recent chat with her, where the system lets her down, as you will read below.

A snapshot of a typical 6 minutes on a shift

As she is primarily ‘in charge’ of the Children’s A&E department, she is juggling priorities all the time, (there is no point in her writing them down, as they will have changed before she has finished writing), triaging the children that present to the department, deciding if their condition is an emergency and needs to be seen by a Doctor to start immediate treatment or if they can wait in time order to be seen, just been informed that there is a sick child being brought in by Ambulance and due here in five minutes, (note to self, is there a bed available in the Resus area?), what about the child that has been here over three hours, if they require further investigations, then they may breach (means going over a four hour limit and the Trust may get fined), need to call the Bed Manager to inform them there could be a potential breach, where is the Doctor I asked for to about ten minutes ago, a parent is getting cross at me, questioning me as to when their child will be seen by a Doctor as she has been waiting for nearly an hour , offer apologies and explain that the Doctors and Nurses are working as fast as they can and her child will be seen soon, this prompts another child’s parent to come up to the desk and ask the very same question, my Nursing colleague who happens to be a new Nurse, (joined the department recently, having just qualified), needs me to do a minor procedure, (which she is not yet trained or qualified to do), goodness the Ambulance will be here in one minute, I have to document all that is happening, each call, each interaction, each conversation whoever they are from, have now been asked by a different Doctor to do something that I do not feel is right for a child, (it is right for an adult), and he is more senior than me, gulp, but I have to tell him, “I do not feel what you are suggesting for the child is correct”, does not go down well, but he understands, although he was arguing with me loudly and in a place where many people could hear, I have to run, the child has arrived in Resus, oh my, this is a really poorly child, she had drowned in a swimming pool, they did mouth to mouth at the pool and in the Ambulance on the way to A&E, she looks lifeless, but we have to try and save her life, the child has been stabilised and transferred to a Specialist Hospital, quick tidy up and restock of equipment that has been used, back in the Department, triaging a new patient, dealing with an upset parent, trying to convince the Doctor they are needed and needed now, and maybe, just maybe, if lucky, a chance for a drink and maybe to use the bathroom.

The Highs and Lows

There are times when she has experienced a child who passes away on the shift, (which is understandably hard on everyone, Nurse and Doctors included, who have been desperately trying to save that life for some time), followed by a set of procedures that need to be carried out, alongside being compassionately there for the parents and family members, who need her support.

All of this goes on in a small, airless, windowless area, a large waiting room, a few small assessment/treatment rooms and a small open central nursing station where the computers/telephones are located, where parents can come up to and ask questions. The noise when it is busy is constant, frantic, dramatic, never ending. So stepping out into the fresh air and almost silence is truly like a breath of fresh air.


Most days the Nurses get used to it, for many, the drive or ride home has the events of the shift laying on their minds, did I remember to document that incident, did I speak to the parent correctly, what happened to that child we sent off in the Ambulance to the Specialist Hospital, what about the family of the child who passed away?

Some days she just needs to talk, needs to let it out, some times just to be in the silence and to know that her unspoken words are being heard.

Don’t get me wrong, she is so passionate about her job, loves helping the children and their families, making a difference, and could not see herself doing anything else.

Being let down

Sadly, as happened yesterday, the system that she works in, lets her and many of her fellow Nurses down big time. A decision was made, actioned immediately and without consultation, which undermines the more senior Nurses and sees them losing some of their potential income. My daughter is one of those impacted and it was tough for me to hear about this sudden change, especially after a day in which she and her colleagues had saved lives, made a difference and put in their whole hearts and souls.

This is what happens when the system focuses on the head and follows the money, rather than considering the heart and doing what is right for our Nurses and for the patients that they care for each and every day.

Colin Smith, more often known as The Listener. Helping individuals to feel heard, think better and to learn how to listen.



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