The Relationship Journey –Active Listening: The 12 elements (Part 1)

Here is the fifth in a series of brief blogs introducing The Relationship Journey in my chapter on Active Listening from The Journey Inside.  Today is all about Active Listening (part 1 of 3).

Preparing to listen

Now things are starting to get interesting.  We are about to go into a meeting, either physically or virtually. Under the umbrella of active listening, where do we start?

Personal preparation

In the first blog of this series, we talked about the preparation from a logistical perspective, and we touched on getting our intention right, now we need to get ourselves ready to actively listen.  We all have our way of ‘getting ready’, for me it starts with making sure that I arrive early, therefore less stressed than if I am running late, and a period of mindful breathing, deeply and consciously. In can be for a minute or two, eyes closed or eyes open.

One organisation I know has their own ritual. Every hour on the hour, for one minute, across all of their locations, instrumental music is played. As soon as it starts, everyone stops whatever they are doing and either closes their eyes or stares at an object. The place falls still and silent. When the music stops, they carry on. Interestingly, they also use this one-minute of silence at the beginning of each meeting, so that all attending can become present. At the end of the meeting, the same one minute of silence, this time to enable embodying of all that has just taken place and to set them up for wherever they go to next. In addition, should the meeting get too heated or non-productive, anyone can call for one minute of silence. In that silence, everything changes.

Next, I make sure that my mobile is turned to silence and is in my bag, away from sight.

Finally, I do a body scan to notice anything else going on in my body, to relax, get centred, and to become present.

Non-judgement and Equality

To enable me to see and hear the other more fully I remind myself that I am meeting a fellow human being, with all the baggage they are choosing to travel with on their journey, as I too am travelling with mine! Holding that in mind enables me to judge them less and to accept them as an equal, (whatever their status, role, sex, race, religion, or beliefs). I believe that we are all doing our best, in spite of how it may seem, with all that goes with being human, and all that has happened in our pasts.

Whenever I struggle with non-judgement, I think about my good friend Jo Berry.

In 1984, at the age of 18, she woke up to learn that her father, Sir Anthony Berry, a Conservative MP had been killed in what became known as the IRA Brighton Bombings. Within two days, Jo vowed that her Father’s death would not have been in vain.

In 2000, she sat down and listened to the one person who had been charged with the bombing, Pat Magee.

She listened for about 90 minutes to Pat, whilst he told her all about why he did what he did, justifying his reasons and so on. At this point, Jo spoke, and said, “You know Pat, had I experienced the life that you had experienced, it is entirely possible I would have done what you did.” This stopped Pat completely in his tracks. He later shared, “Here was this woman, whose Father I have killed, and she is telling me that she understands”. He went on, “Her empathy completely disarmed me”. Their meeting went on longer, but the conversation had changed. Since then they have travelled the world, sharing their story and bringing differing parties together, such as the Israelis and Palestinians who have all lost loved ones in the conflict. 

Curiosity and Interest

I recall meeting a new prospect at his club.  I asked for him at Reception and they were delighted to take me to him.  I noticed that he greeted the Receptionist by name.  I subsequently found out that he knew all of the staff by their first name.  Not only that, he knew about their job, some of their personal lives and so much more.  It was evident that he was extraordinarily loved by so many of the staff, yet he was ‘just’ one of the members.  I asked him why.  He said one word.  “Curiosity.  I am genuinely interested in them, and in doing so they are interested in me.”  Each of them feels heard, valued, and their contribution matters.  Does he get special treatment?  You bet he does!


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. Thank you Jeff, always great to read your thoughts. As you rightly say, the more curious we become, the more we learn about the other and when we do it becomes so much harder to see them as doing anything other than their best. If we had known more or better we would have done things differently.

    I sometimes think like this about my parents and wonder what it was like for them bringing up three children. It was tough at times for us, but as I got older, and hope wiser, realised they were both doing the best the possibly could have done, and in doing so become more empathic.


  2. Beautiful, Colin. “I believe that we are all doing our best, in spite of how it may seem.” I have not always believed this, but as of late, I’ve been consciously trying to put it up as a filter before I criticize or argue with another. It doesn’t mean that I excuse whatever they have done; all it means is that I need to try to understand like Jo tried to understand Pat. It has had a calming affect on me, making me much more curious to know their backstory.

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece, Colin.