Are we really listening?

How often do we listen to somebody?  I mean really listen to them without our own thoughts and stories playing in the background.  As a trainer, facilitator and coach I have always considered myself to be a good listener.  However, I am noticing more and more how rarely I am actually fully present and listening both socially and at work.

The other day I went for a meal with a friend.  I asked her about what her dreams were for her business.  As she began to reveal her heart-felt ideas and dreams I became distracted by a text message that I’d noticed on my phone.  Before too long I’d lost the thread of the conversation and it must have been obvious to her that I wasn’t fully present because the way she was speaking about her dreams changed.  The enthusiasm had gone and her words petered out.  I immediately apologised and revealed that I hadn’t been fully present to something that was so precious to her.  She said she had noticed I wasn’t fully present and so had started to ‘think small’ about her ideas. Dreams are so precious, especially in their infancy“A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow”. Ovid

This experience got me thinking about just how often I, and others, really aren’t fully present at all when they are communicating.  We are in our own maps of the world, listening autobiographically, thinking about our own stuff or what we are going to say next or trying to fix it for the other person. ‘So what?’ you might say.  Well think about how many relationships at home and at work break down as a result of poor communication, false assumptions and complaints of not being seen, heard and understood.
  • What if we could all learn how to be more fully present with others?  What value might that add?
  • What if we as leaders and team members were able to be fully present to the ideas and needs of our colleagues, clients and customers?
  • What might you need to let go of to be fully present when listening?
I know what it feels like to be with somebody who is fully present and listening to me.  It is extremely affirming and empowering. It enables me to give voice to previously untapped and hidden important parts of me. There are three people in my life who immediately spring to mind who are especially good at this.
  • Who in your life does this for you?
  • Who in your life might you need to be more present to?
My colleague, coach, life mentor and friend, Jane, has a phenomenal way of doing this. Those of you who have worked with Jane will know this. Without fail I will come out of a conversation with her feeling better about myself and feeling more resourceful about the situation in hand.  What a gift to be able to give to a colleague, a friend, a loved one, a team member, a child.  So how does she do it?  After asking her it transpires that there is an inner game and outer game going on.  The inner game is about making a conscious choice that we make to give the person with us our full attention.  It’s also in Jane’s words “about love”.  Now if that word doesn’t fit for you in the workplace then what about care or being genuinely interested in the people you work with.  The outer game is about learning listening ‘techniques’.

Learning how to be fully present when listening to others is a really empowering gift to give to others.  On our Pioneer Programme we will be exploring this through a series of practical exercises that help you to realise the impact of presence and non-presence on the other person.  We explore both the inner game and outer game of being fully present to somebody else.  Imagine what potential we might unlock in our people were we able to be fully present to them more of the time.

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