Somewhere around fifth grade, our class had a unit on â€œbeing a good listener.â€ I think it lasted a week. Now, in contrast, Iâ€™m starting to think we can never learn enough about listeningâ€”or listen as deeply as we could.
This idea started emerging a few weeks ago, during the 34th annual convention of the International Listening Association. Surely there was a lot to learn, with sessions on pre-listening (that was the session I co-facilitated with author Kay Lindahl), listening in education and healthcare, listening across cultures, the measurement of listening, cognitive processes, and other topics. Academic papers were read, capstone presentations presented, meditation practiced, and participants sent out to a nearby park to offer â€œFree Listeningâ€ to passers-by.
Since listening plays an indispensable role in dialogue, and Iâ€™ve been practicing dialogue for years, I think of myself as a good listener. Still, this conference deepened my approach to listeningâ€”and taught me several other lessons as well. A few of my personal highlights:
- In An Introduction to Compassionate Listening, I heard aboutâ€”and experiencedâ€”attentive listening taken to an entirely new level. We listened with our hands on our hearts, to remind us continually of the source of listening with compassion. We fixed our gaze on another person and listened with full focus, dispensing with any reaction whatever (even the head nod). We heard of a facilitatorâ€™s upcoming life decision and spoke what we heard of her situation, feelings, and values.
- In our session, I was reminded that nothing is as important as what happens during the session, in that room, at that time. The first two parts of our presentation (about contemplation and reflection to prepare our souls for listening) ran long, so I had to jettison a third part for which Iâ€™d prepared extensively. No matter. What actually happenedâ€”what we as a group created in that sessionâ€”was far more fruitful than anything I could script.
- In Listening through Strategic Questioning, I got healedâ€”I think. Rick Bommelje, president of the Leadership & Listening Institute at Rollins College, facilitated a session in which we practiced asking â€œhonest, open questionsâ€ of one another: questions to which the questioner cannot possibly know the answer, questions designed to facilitate the hearerâ€™s listening to her â€œinner teacher.â€ In a small group, I spoke openly of the doubt that has plagued me continually over the past several years. Somehow, giving voice to this doubt, and pondering the questions that followed, have replaced the doubt with a confidence I had not known before. Talk about power.
How much difference can one conference make? Since ILA, I find myself saying lessâ€”and stopping when my â€œinner teacherâ€ tells me I have taken up my share of the airwaves. I find myself listening without response, posing open and honest questions, focusing more intently on everyone and everything around me. I have done most of these things before. I am doing them more consistently now.
What is the most powerful experience you have had while listening, or being listened to? Please feel free to share them here or on Facebook.