Are You Listening?

Everyone seems to be saying….

  • We need to be responsive to our communities!
  • We need to innovate!
  • We need to do things differently!

They may be right, and the question is HOW do we do these things?  I believe there is a set of skills we need in order to get where we want to go.  And, one of them is learning how to really listen.

I’ve asked thousands of people if they are good listeners and more than half of them say they are.  Then, we do an activity to test whether it’s true.  It turns out what most people think is listening is really preparing an answer, or judging the other persons grammar, or waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Then there is the kind of listening where the listener is on a mental holiday– thinking about what’s for lunch or whether they need to get to the store to buy cat food.  There’s the all-too-common listening that involves the voice in your head saying, “Why won’t she stop talking already?”  And then there’s often a judging voice saying something like “Well, that’s a stupid idea” or “Tell me something I don’t know” or “No way, I know ten reasons why that will never work.”

Listening involves more than standing in front of another person and refraining from talking.  Listening requires openness, suspension of judgment, belief in the possibility that something of value is being transmitted, patience, and the ability to reduce one’s own internal distractions.

If we trained all staff to do this kind of listening – real listening — we just might find ourselves more responsive to our communities, more innovative, and open to doing things differently.  What do you think?