Listening: again and again leaders tell me they or their team member needs to develop this skill. Across industries and around the globe I hear leaders say, “I wish they would just listen!” or, in a better moment, “I need to learn to be a better listener. I would be a better leader if I were a better listener.
Listening is a skill most of us in modern culture have not practiced: when I train clients and I give people time to practice listening, I always ask:
"When did you learn to read?”
“How old were you when you first wrote your name across a page? Was it with a crayon or a pencil?"
The answers come... Reading: 3, 4, 5; Writing my name: preschool or kindergarten.
Then I ask: "When did you learn to listen?"
Only the sound of crickets breaks the silence.
A dawning realization comes: we are not taught to listen as children. This has profound consequences on us as grown-ups. We might have learned to keep quiet, but listening is not silence, it is more.
Listen to connect.
I have spent the last month engaged in an intentional practice of listening: listening in order to connect with the other person.
Giving myself a month to intentionally practice my capacity to listen, and not to simply listen, but listening to connect has been profoundly impactful.
· It has given space in my marriage for more compassion.
· It has provided space to my clients for more self-discovery.
· It has given space in training for more creativity.
· It has given me a chance to have my confidence grow: I have learned it will be OK if I am simply quiet and able to notice others more deeply.
Both my other-awareness and my self-awareness are greater. I can see how much space I take up and the quality with which I take the space.
When I listen to connect, I inhabit the space in a more profound way: I don't take the space, instead I share it. There is more communion and community, less debate and dissention. There is more conversation and questions, less combat and more creativity.
I find that I breathe more deeply and that, oddly, when I am more open and aware of others, I am more in touch with myself.
I come to the end of this month of intentional practice with more compassion for myself and others: more patience; more wisdom.
My capacity to be perceptive and insightful lies in my ability to stop, look and listen. I notice others more. The atmosphere of my days has shifted and grown more meaningful. All of this, I enjoy.
While my coaching and facilitation experiences with listening to connect have been rewarding, the most enjoyable moments of listening to connect have been with my son. Asking him to help his Mama understand what it is like to be a 9 year old boy opened him up to all kinds of sharing. All I had to do was ask him a question for which I had no answer. He knew I didn’t know, and so he felt safe sharing openly.
While I am grateful for the insights with clients, I treasure the insights with my family.
I encourage you to take up this practice for 30 days. Listen, really listen. Listen to connect.
Here are some quick tips:
· Strive to ask questions for which you have no answer.
· Make eye contact: catch and maintain that person’s gaze.
· Savor their words.
· Stay curious: try to imagine the life and experiences that person has had that led them to string those words together in that particular way.
· Suspend your agenda. Simply listen.
As you listen, search for ways to connect with what you are hearing, and to help that person feel that you have truly heard them and value their words.
Conversational Intelligence®, or C-IQ™, is an emerging concept among Leadership Development professionals. The ability to cultivate conversations that allow us to speak openly and honestly, and then to make wise decisions together is essential for innovation environments in business, in government and at home. C-IQ™ empowers organizational resilience and creativity, and creates a path forward in the face of conflict.
In recent weeks, the work of Conversational Intelligence® in our culture, corporations and community has become more urgent than ever. It is essential that we grow in our capacity to listen, to share and to discover from one another in deeper conversations that are grounded in an effort to listen and understand, and then to find ways to collaborate, compromise and create for the common good.