We are all Human Beings with our Own Story

There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.

–Mary Lou Kownacki – Author

Today I was graced with the presence of a British Gas Engineer.

It is interesting how organisations are embracing technology and using it to help their clients have a better experience. On booking the visit, I was been told to expect the engineer during the morning. I have since been reminded by text when they will be coming and again yesterday. This morning I received a personal call from the engineer and a voicemail to tell me when he would be arriving and to call him if there were any problems. He used his name and his mobile number was shown on my screen, increasing my trust. All this setting things up for a positive experience.

He arrived on schedule, professional, with his ID being offered. A pleasant chap, keen to make sure all my equipment was as it should be before he started working. We had a short conversation and gave him his cuppa, and we both carried on working. He was polite, knocking on my door, to ask a question, and again to say he had finished. There was the paperwork to complete and sign. All of which was done.

It was obvious to him that I worked from home, so he asked about my work, or ‘my story’ as he called it. I explained I was a coach and my specialty was listening. He pondered on it for a moment or two and reflected that he had not heard of that before.

We talked about listening and the differences between listening and hearing, and how we can create safe places at work so that people can speak up without fear of being bullied or humiliated.

He related to what I had said and shared that it can be quite tough to do, especially in an industry which is male orientated. He went on to say that he had been brought up to believe that men should not show their feelings or their vulnerability, which, as he has got older, with a partner and three young children, he is beginning to realise is not the best way to be.

He had joined British Gas because of his skill in engineering but more so because of his love of people. As he said he never knows who or what to expect when he arrives at the customer’s door. So he works on adapting his communication style to fit the needs of the customer, which was lovely to hear. I was able to introduce him to Brené Brown’s TED talks, and also to the work of Marisa Peer and her thinking that, “We are enough”, and the shift that can quickly happen in an individual when they accept that they are indeed enough.

This all reminded me of a midwife I knew a while back. Here the stakes are even higher, she literally has no idea who will open the door and how they will be.   All she knows is the name, address and that they are pregnant. She has no idea if they are single, separated or married, happy or sad at being pregnant, whether the child is wanted or not, what social and family condition and/or constraints she is under, her experience and knowledge of pregnancy, and so on.

A midwife has to notice so many things, yet remain as non-judgemental as humanly possible. No easy task. She has to actively listen to everything that is being said, or not being said. Not just the words, but also the body language, the tone, the silence, the feelings, and her ‘gut feel’ or instinct, she has learned to trust. She knows that being able to make that deep connection, to build that close relationship is paramount in the quality of the childbirth experience. If it feels safe and there is trust between them, the mum will feel comfortable in confiding in the midwife, her hopes and fears, her situation, her challenges and in doing so will be able to relax more, and because she is less stressed will be able to take in all that the midwife says.

Listening and being aware was also true during a recent call to the Government department, the DWP. The very amiable, professional and helpful lady listened to me well and was particularly supportive as I was unable to easily find my NI Number. Reassuring me that it was fine, to take my time, took all my self-imposed pressure off me. The paperwork was found in a sensible place, just not logical…well, that’s my excuse. I appreciated her kindness and caring at the end of the call, also saying that I had felt as though it was a human being talking to a human being. Something quite rare, yet thankfully appearing more and more in business.

Listening Tips

  1. Be fully present from the start.
  2. Suspend your judgements.
  3. Listen first, their words and tone.
  4. Listen some more, notice their breathing, pauses, body language, what’s not being said.
  5. Notice how you are feeling.
  6. Trust your gut and intuition.
  7. Above all, be human, because the other person is a human too.

Whose story will you listen to today? 

Who will hear yours?


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.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


    • Spot on Larry, thank you, we have to shut our mouths and open our ears and our senses to really hear the other’s stories. Colin

  1. Hello Colin,
    This is definitely a topic you know and care a lot about. Another great read my friend! Thank you!
    Listening is the foundation needed for communication to happen and relationships to grow. Having an open mind is another part of this foundation. We need to be open and aware, observant and attentive. To embrace other points of view. We are all different. How we communicate should always be selected with great attention. To master the skill of dressing in style takes practice, trial and error. What works for some doesn’t for all. What face you wear makes all the difference too. We learn and apply, it’s just that simple really.

    The more mindful we become, the more we start to listen. “Talk to teach, listen to learn”.#opism A best informed response is always a welcome prompt for further communication (in my view anyway).
    When someone listens and engages with you, shows a real interest. You perk up and really notice.. and it really does feed the sense of value we all so need and seek, dignity here!
    Excellent article. Thank you so much
    Have a wonderful day!

    • Thank you Paula for your kind words, much appreciated.

      It is so true, that we need to be open and aware, observant and attentive. When we enter into a dialogue with another we need to be open enough to have our mind changed…and that takes some doing. Rarely is anything black or white, it is usually one or many shades of grey in between. My good friend’s saying of. “It depends”, comes into play here a lot.

      I love that, ‘when someone listens and engages…’ it perks us up and we really notice. What comes up for me, is that we perk up for all the obvious reasons, and the fact that it is rare, and that is sad.

      We are dying to be heard, literally and figuratively.


  2. Colin, I enjoyed reading your article. We all do indeed have our own story but under no circumstances should we take on the belief that ours is the only story that matters. It can be a wonderful experience listening to other people share their stories with you if you take time to listen. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much you have in common.

    • Thank you Joel, always enjoy receiving your words and your thinking. I agree with you about the only story that matters. The challenge is listening long enough to enable them to get their story out and to arrive in the room with us. Once that happens the conversation takes on a different direction altogether.

      I agree, I am often pleasantly surprised by what we have in common when I listen, in addition, how many times I learn a lesson from what gets shared. Even though they are talking about their story, many times the story is mine as well.


  3. Blessings Colin, loved this as it is shown to be true so often. I once had a priest say during a homily that if one who is talking, and the one listening is already thinking of a reply, then they are not really listening to you at all! Half the time I will implement the points you listed, and thinking, will this person ever stop talking long enough to allow me to respond? Listening is the key to know when that opportunity comes.

    • Thank you Lynn for your wise words. So true, when we are thinking of our reply we have already stopped listening. That is why if we facilitate group sessions by telling everyone they will get their turn to speak and that they will be listened to by everyone and not be interrupted. It also means I don’t have to think about what I am going to say until it is my turn to speak. A rare occurrence.

      Sometimes, I have noticed, that those who have a lot to say, are really in need of someone who will listen to them. It could be 30 minutes in some cases where they finally draw breath, slow down their speaking and arrive in the room with me. The quality of their thinking improves from then on.


  4. Hi Colin, I love your article and your important reminder about listening. This is a skill that doesn’t come natural to me but I work at it each day. When I was building a community garden a few years back, I was approached several times to help young people with community service penalties for doing something wrong. When they came to me I never asked them what they did wrong and I worked with them on the assignment. I listened to their stories about what they were dealing with without judgment. In each case, when they finished their hours, they left with a sense of pride in what they accomplished. In a few cases they put more hours in to finish the job. I was happy to have followed my instincts because I know that this helped them get through their challenge. This proved to me that most people are yearning to be listened to not judged. Simple acts are life changing! Thanks

    • Thank you Helen for your contribution. I love your story and how wonderful to hear how you made a difference. What they had done in their past is their business, you saught to see them as they really are, a clean slate to start with. Interesting, how the way you treated them was reciprocated in the way they responded. Your point about people yearning to be listened to and not judged is perfect and so true. My sense is that we are dying to be heard, literally and figuratively. You way reminds me of that teacher most of us had who took an interest in us, and how we positively responded to that attention.

      In one workshop, the impact one man felt was enough for him to call his wife afterwards and apologise to her for not listening well enough to her or their six year old son. He also promised to change.