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.


Colin D. Smith
Colin D. Smith
COLIN is ‘The Listener’, a listening skills specialist and the ‘go-to’ person for individuals and teams who want to be heard, think for themselves, and transform their business and personal relationships through active listening. Colin has that innate ability to actively listen to people. He works with management, project and creative teams, facilitating the development and improvement of their listening and thinking skills. Thereby equipping them to more effectively meet their business, relationship and service challenges. He also works privately with individuals, enabling them to feel heard and valued, to think more clearly for themselves, articulate their creative ideas, address their personal concerns, and achieve their personal and professional goals. Colin has had a varied and successful career in consultancy, business development, IT and customer support, across many sectors, including finance, motor, retail and the NHS. In looking back he realises that much of his success was due to his listening and connecting abilities. His inquisitive and curious mind also enables him to explore, with others, unusual, thought-provoking, yet grounded, observations and alternative approaches to business, people, systems, and change. To make things happen, and to take ideas and thinking further, he connects his Clients with his trusted network of entrepreneurs, consultants, thought leaders, free thinkers, coaches and change makers.

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  1. So true on so many levels, Colin! I recently had lunch with a friend I see a few times a year; from the moment we sat down, it was obvious she was in pain. We talked back and forth for about 15 minutes, but then it became clear she needed to unload what was going on with her.

    Two hours later … and yes. I sat, listened, and fed back bits and pieces the entire time. Obviously this was a day that had to be all about her. Not about me, except to listen, to empathize where I could, and just be there. Never saw her so distraught before, even though she does have a difficult life.

    Most of us want to be meaningful to someone. To be heard. To be valued. The ways we want that may be different for each, but there’s no getting around the fact that we need human connections who show us that care, that love. And when we’re ill, that becomes even more critical, doesn’t it!

    Thanks for an important article that I’m sharing on my social media platforms.

    • Oh my, Susan, how lovely for your friend to have you be there for her. There is such a subtle shift that takes place when we are in conversation with someone. It is so subtle many of us fail to notice, the underlying need to be heard, and to be heard now. I have been guilty of not noticing it, only afterwards when I was reflecting…I had missed it.

      It is difficult to say what it was, a word, a tone, a pause, a shift in the facial expression, or body, something. When we do notice, as you did, the floodgates can open, and what flows is often that which has not been shared or acknowledged before.

      It is interesting that anyone watching the two of you could have concluded that you were just passive to this other person venting, when in fact listening only happens when we intend to do so. It shifts from being about us to about them. They feel that at a deep level. There are times, just listening, remaining silent is enough for them to end by saying, “Got it, I know what to do now.” followed by, “Thank you for listening”.

      For me, it is what being human is all about.

      Thank you for sharing my article Susan, it is much appreciated.


    • And real listening is the toughest skill to acquire, Colin; so many of us just want to jump in and TALK!

      I have been as guilty — if not more so — than many others because I grew up fighting for my adoptive mother’s attention to MY needs — hers were all-important to her — so I overcompensated early and often.

      It took some doing (and some loving face-to-face confrontations) but I have learned how to “let it be.” To let it be about someone else’s ideas, thoughts, needs. To not hijack the story. To let them talk, vent, rant — whatever is needed.

      Sometimes wisdom does come along with age. 🙂

      And yes. I can hear John Lennon’s voice right now …

      Your articles speak to me, and I’m grateful for them. Thank you, Colin!

    • That is so true Susan, real, deep, empathic listening is the hardest skill to learn, we have to give all of ourselves into the conversation. Yet on the face of it, listening ‘looks’ so easy to do. Therein lies the issue, we can’t do listening, you have to be the listener.

      I appreciate you offering a glimpse into your childhood, that can’t have been an easy time for you. A ‘young one’ trying desperately to make sense of what is taking place around her. (A friend of mine used to listen to how her mother walked across the floorboards to determine what mood she was in that day) We end up making up stories about ourselves because it can only be me that is making her behave that way…a post for another day!

      How special, that through your learning you have been able to heal yourself and your Mother, if I understood you correctly.

      Again, so true, let them be, this is their story, their stuff, they don’t need fixing, just being heard and to know that their words truly matter.

      I am enjoying this dialogue Susan, thank you.


    • Thanks so much, Colin! You clearly “listen” to these remarks as well, as evidenced by your responses to me and others. Nope. Never “reached” my mother. She was formed by a difficult childhood with no mother of her own (her mother died when my mother was just 7) and a remote, ascetic kind of father, who thought he was the gift of the gods. Impossibly vain about his looks. No outward or obvious abuse, but not much warmth, something she and her younger brother desperately needed.

      You might enjoy a couple of articles — one about my early years — and one about conversations …

      And I still cannot talk about or even think about having lost my Aunt Kit without tearing up. She meant the world to me — tears as I write this — and it’s not quite a year since she died.


      What about YOU, Colin? What don’t we know about you? Who or what formed you, turned you into a man who is so clearly focused on healthy interpersonal connections? Your articles are remarkable, and I’m enjoying each one as I find it.

      But is there one — or are there a couple — you would like everyone to see?

    • Thank you, Susan, for your kind observations and comments.

      I have read your posts about listening and the three women in your life…very moving. So not surprised you tear up when you think of your Aunt Kit. She feels like the perfect balance and saviour for you.

      Thank you for sharing your LISTEN post, spot on and very simple to understand.

      Thank you for asking Susan. I look back across my 65 years on this earth with fondness in so many ways. Whilst at times heartbreaking, two divorces, one me leaving and the other me the one being left, a Mother who was absent, (the death of her Mother when I was 6 years old, resulting in her unable to grieve but being diagnosed for depression and medicated accordingly), and having a few of those close to me experiencing mental health conditions. No regrets, all opportunities to learn from, and more importantly heal from. Even though lots have been learned from these experiences there is much more I am sure.

      The listening idea found me, I kept reinventing myself until listening became my place of choice. Tongue in cheek, I share that half my working career was spent in IT, how computers worked, behaved and connected, the second half with people, how they worked, behaved and connected 🙂

      As I am sure you are picking up from my writing, listening, deep human connection, and what arises from that place is what excites me. Deep down I know that my work makes a difference, wherever I go and whoever I am with…that is once they ‘get’ me as The Listener.

      I also believe that in my wizened years that I have a role as a supporter, guide, mentor or coach for the generation coming into the workplace. Not to fix them, rather to be there for them, in service if you like to them being the best they can be.

      I seek a world where we listen more empathically and deeply to each other, value our differences, recognise that we all have opinions and perceptions that may be different, and that is OK. If we listen first and then get to be heard, things can change in an instance.

      Who would we not love if we knew their story?

      We are dying to be heard, literally and figuratively.

      As for which blog post. No favourites, each person will be drawn to what they need.