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Listen to ignite

This is the third in our series of blogs on the art of listening. It supports our October listening challenge #shutupandlistenwhere we encourage our network to really listen.

Transformative listening is nearly a work of art. It comes from genuine interest in where the person will go next in their thinking. It comes from your courage to trust their intelligence. [Nancy Kline]

It’s a common problem in communicating that we are all so eager to participate in a conversation that we forget that listening is vital to the process – and we are taking part in a really powerful way, just by listening.

By listening properly and being completely present (and quiet) for the person speaking, it creates a platform for amazing things to happen. You are allowing the speaker the freedom to explore their thoughts and words by giving them your time and trusting in the quality of what they are saying.

But what are the benefits of listening? If we understand its importance and we learn how to do it, what can we hope to achieve? What does it mean to listen to ignite? Nancy Kline sums it up by saying “I want to be listening in a way that is more interested in where you will go next than I am in what I am going to say next.”

Take the time (2 minutes) to listen to Nancy in this YouTube clip where she articulates this very well.

It says to me that our response or our need to respond is far less important than the act of listening. That our response isn’t always needed or valuable. What is valuable is that the person speaking is creating something in isolation, without the need for input or resistance from someone else.

Nancy Kline advocates that “giving the attention of one human being to another is an act of creation”.

We are highly conditioned to treat communication as 2-way. It’s expected that a conversation will go backwards and forwards like a tennis match, sometimes with interruptions, often with tension or challenge, and sometimes with traded experience and contributions that show we understand what is being said.

But what if what is being said is enough? Why do we need to agree, disagree, question or challenge? There will be times when this is acceptable of course but, even then, only when we have really listened to understand.

Action: Challenge yourself to listen properly in your next conversation. Don’t anticipate or guess at what is being proposed, listen all the way through, absorb the words and really understand what is being said. Don’t scan listen, listen with 100% of yourself and allow the words to resonate and stand for a moment. You can decide what you do next once you have full knowledge, all the facts and you have overcome any burning desire to jump in and steer the conversation your way. This isn’t a criticism, we all do it.

How you respond is really important. You might like to repeat some of the speaker’s main headlines, ask questions or empathise. To make the communication work, a response will eventually be required but don‘t make the mistake of judging or jumping to a response. Be considered, slow down, really think about your reaction to the speaker and above all, don’t be rushed into a quick reply. If necessary, ask for the same courtesy – ask for some time or say that you’ll think about that and come back to them when you have something useful to add.

In writing these blogs about listening, something very key is cropping up as a subtext throughout. I am referring to time. True listening, communications and considered responses all take time. We probably need to slow down and invest a little more, particularly in those communications that demand more care, sensitivity or are complicated.

In summary:

  • Listen to give the speaker space and time

  • Listen to understand, not to reply

  • Listen to ignite and give the speaker time to create

  • Listen for information and not for the sake of conversation

  • Listen carefully, give the speaker all the time you can

  • Respond appropriately, in a considered way, don’t just fill the air with words

  • Take time, slow down, especially for important dialogue

Listen to find common ground and use this as a vehicle for making your communications more meaningful. Don’t agree, defend or challenge until you’ve heard everything. It might be that the person speaking comes full circle or changes direction as they are voicing their thoughts. By giving them the whole stage you give them the freedom to create something.

We will continue to explore the mechanics of how you listen, why listening works, how you find common ground and how to listen for resolution through this series of dedicated blogs. For now though, let your speaker speak!

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