FirstSpark blog by Ashley Ward
What does it mean to really listen? Have you ever contemplated that? What is involved in true active listening? What does it look like, sounds like, feel like? Sure, it depends on the circumstances, the environment, the people (or lack thereof) involved and your frame of mind at the time. The art of listening contains core elements that are important to consider and pay close attention to, for the sake of humanity, your relationships and your well-being.
Recently I attended the most enjoyable class titled "Parenting with Peace and Presence" which was led by Parent Coach Beth Miller, someone I've know many years. It delivered per the title. I experienced 2 hours of peaceful presence and learned some new strategies to try, coupled with yoga. It was divine and kicked off my weekend with a calm awareness. Beth shared something I had never heard...LISTEN and SILENT have the same letters. That struck a chord! To listen, really listen, we have to be silent - in our minds and in our hearts - so we can hear what the speaker has to say and absorb the information being shared as if it were a gift. How often do we listen in pure silence?
Our team at work has chosen to practice active listening throughout the year as part of our personal and professional development. The success of our work depends on us being present and hearing what our clients are sharing so we can best support them. It is because this skill is so critical to our ability to connect with community leaders and build strong relationships that we are devoting time and energy to practice. We know our personal relationships will benefit too! If you need convincing about the power of practice, I point to notable resources that offer compelling, research-based evidence, Angela Duckworth's Grit and the following two books focus on habit formation - The Power of Habit by Charles Duhig and Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before.
I used to claim, not so humbly in retrospect, that being a good listener was one of my greatest strengths. The more I practice and focus on honing this skill, the more I realize how far I am from mastery. So practice I will. I have grit for this endeavor!
Have you ever taken the time to contemplate what it takes to listen? What comes to mind? For a different perspective on the art of listening, check out Julian Treasure's TED Talk. As a sound consultant, his hearing and listening acumen is at that mastery level. In this short video, he offers a most compelling message as to why this skill, which is so essential to our everyday function and ability to connect with others, is vital to humanity. I concur with his premise, we are losing our ability to listen and the cost is frightening. All we need to do is look around us. Everyone is talking and few are listening to understand, even fewer are listening to understand and agreeing to disagree, respectfully. The art of listening, the art of discussion, debate and dialogue (and knowing the difference among those three) could stand to make a comeback. Teaching, learning and practicing the skill of listening is not an option, in my opinion.
I was exposed to a new way of contemplating the art of listening during executive coaching training, which will be fully explored in a future post. For the curious, you can think about listening that happens at three levels. Level one listening is where we hear what the speaker is saying through our own lens and we think about situations in our life that are similar. The internal focus is on ourselves. Level two listening is where we are present, open and curious about what the speaker has to say and we inquire with silent anticipation, and the occasional question, to prod them on to share more. Our listening focus is on the speaker and our intention is to connect. Level three listening is more expansive and includes all of our senses. We are listening to the speaker's words and we are listening to how else they are communicating with their body and tone. We can feel the energy of the space and we are listening for congruence or dissonance. Being in level three listening takes practice, and a lot of it. Being in level three listening takes a quieting of the mind and heart so you can be fully aware of what is around you, outside of yourself and your thoughts and feelings. This level invites your intuition to take the wheel.
There is another type of listening that also deserves its own post someday, and that is the ability to listen to ourselves. Turning inward is essential to our ability to self-reflect and remain self-aware. Listening internally is as important as the skills required to establish connection with others. When you listen to yourself, including your mind, body and soul, you will realize you are speaking to yourself all of the time. What is being said is the question. Are you able to be silent enough to listen?
I invite you to reflect on the following:
How is your listening?
What would others say?
What gets in the way of your ability to listen?
What helps you listen?
How do you prepare to listen?
What do you need to really listen to another person? How often do you ask for what you need to listen well?
What will you commit to doing to practice your listening skills?
What can you do to tune in and listen to yourself even more?
What will it take for you to be SILENT and LISTEN in your next conversation?