Have you ever noticed that in your family there are certain expressions which have passed into common use but you don’t really know where they came from? ‘I heard that! Pardon?’ is one of ours.
It came to mind today when I was in a meeting where lots of people were speaking and it seemed that no-one was really listening. In ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, Steven Covey writes:
“Most people do not listen with the intent to learn and understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak.”.
He asserts that as soon as someone else speaks, it triggers a response in us where we’re measuring the comments up against our own experiences, maybe thinking ‘ah, that reminds me of when something similar happened to me’ or ‘really? I didn’t react that way at all when he said that!’. The focus has immediately shifted to us, taking our concentration away from the speaker.
We’re taught how to read and how to write in our very early years but we’re seldom taught how to listen. Whilst at university studying interpreting, I found that in order to be effective, I had to consider my own thoughts and opinions completely irrelevant: what mattered was accurately recreating the speaker’s words and intent in the target language. I think that was the first time I realised that we actually have to practise listening: since then, my training and my subsequent work as a coach have given me many more hours of practice.
It seems that if we are to truly listen, we need to set aside our own agenda. We’ve all seen someone who’s concentrating more on the text message they’re sending than the conversation they’re having face to face; if we’re honest, we’ve probably all been the person who’s more tuned in to the conversation going on at the desk behind us than the one in which we’re participating. Sometimes we want to make sure that we express our opinion too – particularly if someone’s just mentioned the brilliant idea that was on the tip of our tongue – and so we cut the speaker off mid-flow. Sometimes we need to just be quiet and let people talk: we can show a real interest in them and ask questions to further explore their comments.
In summary, as I want to continue to improve as a listener, I need to:
Show up: I want to be fully present with the person who’s speaking – I want to set aside any distractions.
Slow up: I want to let the speaker finish and not rush in with my own ideas.
Shut up: I want the speaker to do most of the talking, perhaps prompted by a curious question from me every now and then.
Today’s pebble for you to turn over and think about:
What does ‘being a good listener’ mean to you? Are there situations in which you feel it would be appropriate for you to show up, slow up or shut up?
What do you think?
Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.
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