Listen for It
If everything around us seems new and different, let’s make the ways in which we listen new and different, too. Unprecedented times demand the cultivation of a beginner’s mind. Let’s listen to people as if everything we are hearing from them is new. As if we are hearing what they have to say for the first time.
Consider: why would you be listening in the first place if you know exactly what they are going to say?
You may have previously tried to be a better listener. Perhaps busyness, distraction, or anxiety got in the way of your skill-building. Behavior change is hard. But now the pandemic offers a context that can habitualize our being better listeners.
Of course, our current context also includes rampant distrust and anger, stoked by increasing inequity and weaponized media. I’m not claiming economic and political divides will be cured by everyone being better listeners. We will continue to disagree with others. But better listening will likely take things down a notch. Being heard and hearing others can diffuse anger, reduce defensiveness, and cultivate compassion.
Earlier in this most curious year, I facilitated a program in listening for professional communicators. I opened by asking, Over the course of a week, how many minutes of high-quality listening do you receive? And, How often do you get to listen simply to understand perspective (not for interpretation or analysis)? Quickly — and shockingly — the majority of participants admitted they themselves fully listened to another person for only 10 minutes a week. After a focused and intentional paired exercise, the participants announced their surprising realization: they had to be listened to before they could listen to others. Once they themselves felt heard, they could hear others with a compelling openness.
Here’s how those leaders quickly learned to listen better and hear more:
First, they set their intent. Both partners knew they would be refraining from assumption and listening to each other with openness, eagerness, and a fresh mind. We had done a couple of exercises to cultivate this sense of listening with a beginner’s mind. Then, I asked them to “share a story about a time you felt truly listened to” or “about a time that, despite…