When you think about listening, do you think about it as something you do? Is it a skill of doing? Is it a skill of being? What's the difference?
Listening Can Be a Doing Skill and a Being Skill
If you need information, such as someone's name, address, date of birth, that's a doing moment. Your purpose in that moment is the acquisition of information. The other person has facts you need.
If, however, what you want to know is what someone is feeling, what's most important to them in a moment, or what need they're experiencing . . .
You have to first realize that this moment is upon you; and
You have to know how to meet it.
This, friends, is not in the acquisition-of-information wheelhouse, and listening as a way of being is how to meet the moment.
How do I cultivate these skills?
They come with practice. You can read this post or a book or watch videos on how to be more fully present and purposeful, and that's not going to get you closer to having a practice that cultivates presence and purpose. The more first-hand knowledge you have of your own way of being, the more you're able to connect and attune with others. Let's deconstruct that a bit:
first-hand knowledge you have of your own way of being: Do you feel what it's like when you walk into a room, from the inside out? The way you walk reflects your inner experience (unless you are intentionally behaving in a way that's different from how you feel). The way you speak speaks volumes about you. Your tone, cadence, pacing, syntax, and diction, all speak to how you are in the moment as well as your broader identity. Your eye contact, the faces you make, the way you hold your body, the way you sit, and what you do with your body when you're sitting—these are all aspects of your way of being. First-hand knowledge of all of this comes from one place: observing yourself and getting to know what being you feels like, from moment to moment.
connect with others: Part of being a mammal is that we are built to connect and support each other. Your way of being is the outward manifestation of the internal experience you're having, all day long. Your way of being might be telling others you aren't open for connection.
attune with others: Attunement happens when you don't resist what's arising between you and someone else. When we meet others where they are, our expectations, assumptions, and biases fall away (and vice versa, if you think about it). It's in those moments that attunement becomes possible.
Your Purpose Isn't Your Agenda
Your purpose as a mammal is to check in with your own nervous system and attune to the other one in the room (or screen or phone). What's coming up for them? How can you support them? When you're present and attuned, you're putting them first. When you're present, your nervous system is a barometer for what's happening with the other person. But you have to practice to become that barometer. How?
Whether you're a teacher, parent, coach, or advisor, becoming the barometer begins with your own embodied awareness. That means you know what your body is doing, you're aware of whatever sensations, thoughts, and feelings you're experiencing, and you feel safe and open. If you're feeling tight and concerned about your emotions or other parts of what's occurring, and you're busy pushing thoughts or feelings away, the result is a closing of your way of being and an inability to be available to others or even to sense what's occurring between you.
Think of it this way, when you walk into a room you do so in a body, and that body is an open system that can be influenced by many factors surrounding it, in addition to the other nervous systems in a room and even the residual effects of something that happened earlier that day. Or earlier that decade, depending on how aware that body and mind are. If you don't know this and don't have a practice for working with it, the extent to which you can be helpful is compromised.
Get Comfortable With Silence
The more comfortable you get with silence, the more clearly you can sense and hear what your own body needs, and what the person you're with needs. If you sense that something is happening with the other person, or if they haven't done what they were supposed to do or they've done something they weren't supposed to do, rather than asking a Why question, try this on:
Wait quite some time to see if they have something to say.
When they seem like they're finished, wait a bit longer.
Just one more moment.
Get curious. Ask "What matters most to you right now?" Or "What are you feeling right now?" and then "And what thoughts do you have related to that?"
Behaviors are strategies to meet needs. Why not just come right out with the question, "What do you need in this moment?" And while you're being curious, investigate what's happening in your own body and mind.
How You Contribute When Things Go Sideways
When things aren't going the way we think they should, that moment exists because we had an expectation about the way things should go. They only went sideways because we assumed they would go differently.
The easy fix for that is to be open and curious about what matters to the other person and what they're feeling. Again, behaviors point to needs. If you aren't a fan of the behavior, odds are there's a need that hasn't been met in the other person. Asking Why effectively moves the conversation away from the source of the most relevant information (the body), to a bunch of stories and distractions. Don't leave the most important information out of the conversation.
May this week bring you what you need.