Few years ago, I worked for almost two years with Sara – a finance director. Sara and I were neighbors and shared the same routine of waking up early in the weekend to pick up our coffee from the local coffee shop under my building. Apart from the common courtesy and few emails I never really knew Sara. That was until we participated in a workshop on leadership communications called Mindful Listening. The two of us were asked to simply listen to each other –no interruption, no judgement and no rush. I was surprised to see my quiet colleague consuming the allocated time talking about her aspirations and goals in life. By offering her the gift of listening, Sara felt safe to be open and even vulnerable – I noticed her eyes glittering with unshed tears as she described the legacy she wanted to leave for her only daughter. In just 10 minutes, a colleague and a neighbor seemed more like a friend than a stranger.
The activity taught mindful listening by the letters L.I.S.T.E.N:
L: look the other person in the eye to show your respect to their conversation. Let them know that you are present and genuinely interested in what they have to offer. Be mindful to listen to what is not being said.
I: inquire and ask questions that generate dialogue. Ask them about the true meaning of what they are saying. Clarify your understanding with questions without leading them. Ask them about what matters and not what the matter is.
S: silence in the inner voice in your head trying to interrupt. Be comfortable with Silence – the listener’s best friend. Honour the moments when the mouth is quiet and the brain is loud. Do not feel the pressure to fill the silence with your own words.
T: take a note of anything that provokes your thinking to discuss it later. Do not use your brain’s power to remember what to say next. Put on a paper and quickly go back to your undivided attention.
E: encourage sharing by showing your engagement. Let them know that you are still present through a simple nod of your head or an affirming gesture or sound without seeming pushy or interrupting.
N: neutralize your judgement of the person or what is being said. Manage the emotional triggers you have towards certain words, topics or people. Do not let your head wander to stereotype, judge or assume.
In a world that is increasingly lonely, tremendously complex and quickly changing few are generous to truly listen to us. That is why we appreciate them and honor them as leaders in their families, communities and organisations. Listening does not only help us get to the heart of the matter, but also to the hearts of the people.