As I’ve taken on new responsibilities at work, I’ve noticed myself sometimes talking too much in meetings with my team. Often I can see that my need to talk is rooted in fear – fear that I might not be good enough, that I might not be focusing on the right things or doing the right things, that I might not deliver something meaningful. I imagine the person can see my fear as if it were the clothes I were wearing. I know that I am missing something important by talking instead of listening.
In part I’m really excited about what we are doing and have very strong ideas about the direction that we can go. As a leader, the organization is counting on me to have a clear vision, articulate a strategy and motivate our team to transform. That certainly takes communication, in a variety of forms, and being in action. What’s becoming clear, however, is that it also takes being still and listening. Really listening.
When I catch myself truly listening, I see its power. When someone talks and knows that I’m really paying attention and ‘over there’ with them, it’s almost like I can see them expanding, me opening, our discovering.
I’ve noticed that sometimes listening is one of those things that I often do better with people I don’t know than with people I love. Having been with my husband for nearly 30 years, I often think I know what he’s going to say, or I catch myself not really listening – I’ll be thinking about the things I forgot to do or what I need to get done, not really being there with him. Hmmm…is that the way you treat someone you love more than life itself, I wonder? I’d like to grow in my ability to step outside of myself and really connect.
So what is true listening? My experience is that when I truly listen, I hear more than words. It’s like music. When I listen to a good song. I hear not only the words, but also the emotion. It can move me when I really open up to it (or, it can just play in the background without effect if I’m not tuned in).
You can hear feelings. Your ears can give you a view into who someone is, what is happening for them, how they view a situation, what they might be needing. Try it in your next conversation. Pause. Tune it. Just listen. Notice what you hear. Their voices are gifts when we open to receive.
- Do you hear fear, the sense of urgency, the tension, the pain, disappointment, uncertainty?
- Do you hear joy, the desire to celebrate, the passion, the invitation, possibility in their voice?
- Can you hear what’s needed: understanding, having a voice, expression of ideas or feelings, exchanging information, connection, help, renewal, strength
Thoughts/answers/responses will come up as the person speaks. I’m practicing noticing them (accepting them, not judging them, or me), releasing them, letting them pass, and refocusing on the other person – their words, the tone, the volume, the energy, the mood.
Ironically, the act of listening – and turning our focus to someone else – is a way to learn not only about the other person, but also about ourselves. In order to go over there and be with the other person, we have to step out of our own insecurities and self-absorption. True listening is a skill and takes practice.
In the past, I’ve committed to being present in my work meetings or conversations with people – to not multi-tasking or thinking about the next thing I need to do. Old patterns of busy-ness inevitably return. I’m inspired as we enter a new month to try something more focused. I am going to dedicate one interaction a day (a meeting, a conversation, a conference call) to true listening. Do you want to join me in seeing what we can learn about those around us and about ourselves from true listening?
Last month I posted a complete 2014 calendar: 2014 Inspiration 11X14_Leading With Intention
Photo by Vicki L. Flaherty, near Keswick, England, September 2012.