Are You Listening?
(written for The Coaching Corner; Glebe Report)
Marcel finally got the news that he had been dreading. He was being laid off. While he knew that cuts were coming to the telecommunications firm where he worked, he was not prepared for the moment he was called into his Manager’s office and told to clear out his desk. He was escorted from the building in a daze. What was he going to tell his wife who had just gone on maternity leave and was excited about the pending arrival of their new baby? Rather than go home right away, he decided to call his old friend, Paul, to ask if he was free for coffee after work.
Friends from university, Marcel and Paul used to spend weekends cycling. In recent years, however, they didn’t get together as often. Now in their late thirties, both men were married and working hard on their careers.
They met at Bridgehead. Marcel was distraught, pouring out his heart to Paul who had never seen Marcel in a state like this before. Shortly into the conversation, Paul heard his BlackBerry ping. Try as he might, he could not resist the urge to pull the device from his pocket to check the message. He typed a response. Then, he kept on checking, looking up every once in a while in Marcel’s direction. The conversation went on like this for an hour following which Marcel went home feeling like he had not been heard.
This little story about two friends getting together to talk about a personal problem is one that takes place in countless interactions in the workplace and in our personal lives. This is a story about listening.
Listening is a powerful communications skill which helps us connect with one another. It allows us to stand in the other person’s shoes in such a way that a whole new world opens to us.
To listen fully is a gift. To listen with awareness during a conversation increases understanding, helps build relationships, resolves conflicts, and enriches relationships. Deep listening invites a conversation of hearts and minds.
If you were to “check in” with your self during a conversation with a partner, family member or colleague, how would you rate your ability to listen in that moment? By that I mean:
• How were you holding your body? Were you relaxed or were your arms crossed?
• How did you feel in your body? Did you feel at ease or tense?
• What was your state of mind? Were you fully listening to both the content and the context or were you already interpreting the conversation in your mind and making assumptions about where the conversation was going?
In a time of so many distractions ― mobile phones, electronic games, Internet browsing, social media ― there is a tendency for some of us to focus on honing our skills with these applications at the expense of cultivating listening skills. While these applications help us organize and, in some cases, speed up our work, they do not replace listening. And it is through listening that we can learn more about ourselves and others.
According to writer Linda Stone, “We pay continuous partial attention in an effort not to miss anything. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, anyplace behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis. We are always in high alert when we pay continuous partial attention”. Unlike multi-tasking which gives the same priority to each activity ―eating breakfast and making lunches for the kids at the same time ― continuous partial attention involves engaging simultaneously in two activities that both demand cognition. In the case of Paul, for example, he was talking to Marcel at the same time as he was reading emails on his Blackberry. As a result, he was not fully present with either activity.
If I were to wave a magic wand and set the stage differently for Marcel and Paul’s coffee together, here is what the scene would look like: Paul would be facing Marcel directly, hands folded on the table in front of him. His phone would be turned off and tucked away out of sight. He would be quietly listening to Marcel talk about how worried he was about losing his job. Occasionally, he would ask a question. And at the end of their coffee together, Paul would have become an ally in emotional support to an old friend who was at a turning point in his life.
Batia Winer is a meditation teacher and a certified Integral Master Coach™. 613-327-7522; firstname.lastname@example.org