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.
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.
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?