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?


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 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?


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. I think most people can solve their own crisis and really only need you to be calm and listen. My son use to call me a lot and complain for hours. One day I said I really don’t know how to help you. He said I don’t need help. I just need you to listen.