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Listen…..keep it real!
September 19th, 2019

There are times when we need to be a critical listener and times when we need to be an intimate listener. Reflecting on our role as a listener can help us listen in context, in a way that is most useful.

Listening can be a multifaceted art that requires us to adapt how we listen relative to the context. Listening is not one size fits all. The more complicated and diverse the roles we have in life, potentially the more listening roles we adopt.

We may be asked for an opinion, or asked to provide feedback, in which case we must listen with some degree of judgement or assessment. We must listen for flaws or gaps, we listen for strengths or excellence, either way, we are assessing what we hear for value and relevance.

We may be coaching or supporting, listening intimately when there is vulnerability, someone or a group that has asked for help or guidance. We listen to know how to support, how to coach. We listen to learn and we learn what to ask or when to leave space for reflection. Intimate listening is exemplified by the poignancy and relevance of any response or question you offer the speaker based on what you hear.

As a friend or a colleague, we may be asked to listen and do nothing else. Simply listen. All we appear to be is a warm body, no need for our advice, judgment, questions or interpretation. The speaker or story teller needs to share out loud what is going on for them inside, in a trusted space. In the process, they may resolve something or discover something new. And we have remained silent yet intent in our listening.

One thing that all listening requires is a level of self-awareness that allows us to manage internal triggers in order to stay present. If we are constantly judging the speaker for validity, truth or relevance, or feeling outrage or frustration and being hijacked in our heads by what we hear, then we can no longer hear the speaker for the voices in our own heads. The louder the voices, the harder it is to be present.

Humans are programmed to listen for threat as our survival mechanism. Usually we are not listening for threat to our lives, rather threat to ego, to our reputation, our ideas, our status or value to name a few.

When coaching, to learn from the speaker what they are conveying intimately means we are listening in a way that goes against natural instinct. We must listen without thought to our own ego, our position or our value.

The ability to suspend our judgments, our interests, ideas and opinions when we are coaching or supporting someone takes much discipline, practice and integrity. It takes risk as we set aside our own needs for those of the speaker. It takes humility to put someone else’s needs to be heard ahead of our own thoughts.

We can become aware of the voices that arise in our heads; voices that question or challenge, personalize, judge or interpret, and we can let the thoughts go, or be shelved for future reflection as soon as we are able, so we can return to being intimately present to the speaker.

Rather than insisting that we listen non-judgmentally which we often hear in communication training, listening according to our role and what is required of us is more humanly possible. If you don’t know your listening role, just ask. “Are you seeking my feedback? Do you want my opinion? Do you need to vent? What do you need from me right now?” It may change along the way, but at least you’ll set the stage for real listening.