Monday, 14 April 2014

Listening to Learn or is it Learning to Listen

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”  ~Ralph Nichols

A bit of a sideways step this time as listening seems to be a topic that has been presented to me in various ways in the last week or so. I have been writing this on and off over the last few days so I hope it makes sense.

Have you heard the following statement before?

Often people are not really listening, just waiting for their turn to speak

Have you experienced conversations like this? You know, where we seem to be talking at cross purposes. I am thinking many of us have and I would imagine that perhaps a few of us may have been the impatient one wanting their turn!

I know that my impulsivity sometimes has me jumping in during a conversation before I pause to absorb, I know at times I get excited and want to share my great idea or current thought before the other person has finished… so this is a real work in progress for me. I know learning ‘wait time’ made me a better teacher and I hope a better friend. I also know when I manage my impulsivity and attend to the conversation it is amazing how the questions come naturally, how much I learn about the other person, and myself. One of my favourite things is meeting new people and hearing about their world, I have had amazing conversations with fellow passengers on planes (I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea!) and taxi drivers and people I meet whilst waiting in line. Even though I rarely meet them again my world is richer for the conversations we have had.
"Listening looks easy, but it's not simple. Every head is a world." — Cuban Proverb
For me real listening is about the other person. It has the potential to solve arguments before they start (how often does a conflict arise that is based around miscommunication?) The fine art of listening is sometimes hearing what isn't said, a bit like reading between the lines (but please make sure you check in to see if you are right!) Feeling really heard has the capacity to fill our tanks and improve our sense of wellbeing and worth. Listening is reciprocal- both parties gain from the dialogue, I often learn from you when I actively tune in.

I figure that real listening demands for a short time that we are living in the moment, alongside the person we are listening to, with mind and heart open. We hear them and help them tell their story, by honestly being there. The questions we ask are genuine and not designed to meet our agenda but theirs- sometimes they don’t even know their agenda and being listened to helps them discover it. Celia Lashlie spoke about this at the Teachers Matter conference earlier this year when suggesting that if we want to help people in crisis we need to stop looking at our watches and computers and other assorted gadgets, stop believing we know the answer and know better, and instead focus on the other person, step inside their bubble and hear their truth. I couldn’t agree more.

"Silence is a source of great strength." — Lao Tzu

I am currently doing a course on the Habits of Mind (with KarenBoyes from Spectrum Education- useful personally and professionally) and one of the areas we have been focusing on is pausing, paraphrasing and probing. Very briefly here is the strategy as I understand it:

·        Pausing allows the speaker space to think and speak clearly, they may continue speaking and go deeper than they would normally. Pausing also allows the listener the opportunity to reflect on what they have heard.
·        Paraphrasing is when the listener tells the speaker what they have heard and checks in to see that they have got it right. Paraphrasing gives the speaker a chance to reflect on what they have spoken about and clarify any misconceptions.
·        Probing is when the listener asks questions to get greater clarity about the problem or learn more about the other person and their perspective. Through answering questions the speaker may come to new understandings or greater clarity, they may discover solutions that were hiding inside them. 

This strategy fits with various coaching models including John Shackleton’s method (Inspire Your Team is a practical guide that is easy to read and well worth the effort) and Jan Robertson's Coaching Leadership (another great book especially designed for school setting but the process could transfer well I think). The BIG thing that comes through is that listening is pivotal to building great teams, working with others, contributing to the wellbeing of others and helping people build resiliency (their can-do-ness!).

What a terrific gift to give another person… a little of your time and energy. Thank you for listening to me by reading this, please feel free to send through questions and comments and we can have a conversation :)  

"The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer."— Henry David Thoreau


John Shackleton- Inspire Your Team 
Jan Roberston- Coaching Leadership 

And for those of you who are looking for a longer quote, just in case, I thought I would share this with you too :)

"To listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words. You listen not only to the 'music,' but to the essence of the person speaking. You listen not only for what someone knows, but for what he or she is. Ears operate at the speed of sound, which is far slower than the speed of light the eyes take in. Generative listening is the art of developing deeper silences in yourself, so you can slow our mind’s hearing to your ears’ natural speed, and hear beneath the words to their meaning."
— Peter Senge

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