I bet the answer isn’t what you think it is….
Communication is made up of three main elements: speaking, writing and listening. We learn to speak when we are very young thanks to our parents/care givers. We learn to write at school thanks to our teachers. When and where do we learn to listen? Nowhere! That said, some of us choose careers where learning to listen is required (ie: counselling, coaching, sales). Sometimes we learn to listen when exploring ways to improve our relationships. Sometimes we learn to listen as part of management development, however these are random and often one offs. Unlike speaking and writing, listening as a communication skill is under taught.
Today, more than ever, communication matters. The results are in. People say again and again that they don’t feel heard. Don’t underestimate the power of being heard, the power of really being listened to - it connects us, it builds relationships. We want to relate and essential to being related is communication. Wouldn’t you like to be a better communicator? How can you communicate like a professional?
As a Master Coach, I have studied and practiced listening for many years now. Of course, I still have more to learn, but for now I want to share with you what I have found most useful. I believe there is another level of listening that is more powerful than Active Listening. This is what I call still mind listening.
Think back to a time when you were fully listened to. It may have been a family member, a friend or even a colleague. When you felt fully heard and understood - when your conversation was valued. How are you going? Do many times come to mind? For many of us, we don’t have many examples of being fully listened to. I was fortunate to work with General Motors Holden Chairman and Managing Director, Bill Hamel, who was an expert listener. He practiced MBWA (management by walking about) then would stand in his office jangling the coins in his pockets as he processed and integrated what he had heard from the factory floor to the executive dining room. His wife, Juanita, was also an exquisite listener. When you were talking with her, she made you feel like you were the only person in the world… she was totally focussed on what you were saying and fully present to you. I understand that President Bill Clinton has this ability too. I believe that both Bill and Juanita Hamel were practising, possibly unbeknown to them, still mind listening, a tremendous asset to their leadership skillset.
"It is the province of knowledge to speak. And it is the privilege of wisdom to listen."
Oliver Wendell Holmes
So, what is still mind listening? It is when we are listening to the speaker and we are NOT crafting our response at the same time. You know what I mean… often when we are listening our mind is active in that we are preparing our comments, responses, advice, examples, solutions, retort or rebuttal. That is why this is called active listening! Our own mind is active thus we are not fully present to the speaker. We jump in as soon as the speaker takes a breath to share our response. More often than not we have a similar example, a solution, a question, a bigger/better/more version of what the speaker just said. Go on, admit it, you are guilty of doing this. We all are. It is not wrong; it is simply limited. We are only listening to content, not context.
It’s never too late to learn to connect better with those who matter – your loved ones and your colleagues. But how? If you are seriously interested in building relationships, then read on, this information is for you.
Still mind listening is another level of listening you can add to your communication toolkit. If you want to make the speaker feel heard and valued, I encourage you to start practising still mind listening. I guarantee it will improve the quality of your relationships – both in the workplace and at home.
How do we practice still mind listening?
Here are my 8 steps to still mind listening:
- Become aware that this level of listening exists (this article has done that).
- Notice when you are fully listened to (it will feel wonderful, you will feel valued).
- Make a conscious decision to practice this yourself. Make it your intention to listen with a still mind.
- Notice when you are listening with an active mind. Ask yourself “Am I really listening or am I preparing to speak myself?”
- Make the choice to listen with stillness, that is, to listen with a still mind.
- When you notice your mind drift, bring yourself back to being present. Relax. Quieten your internal thought system. No need to be distracted by thoughts of the past or the future. Focus back on the context of what the speaker is saying, not your inner dialogue.
- Be realistic, while listening your mind will drift and often revert to being busy, it will be active. Choose again to listen with stillness.
- Remember, when our mind is relaxed and alert, we can hear aspects of the context we can’t when our mind is busy. We gain greater access to our intuition, unclouded by analytical considerations. We listen with our whole being.
Our quiet receptivity invites deeper sharing by the speaker. Best of all, this is what makes them feel heard and valued. What a generous gift to give another person. Best of all, once we have this given this gift to others we find it so powerful and rewarding we will choose to practice it again and again. The relatedness between people becomes profound.
"The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought and attended to my answer."
Henry David Thoreau
Remember that learning to listen with a still mind takes practice and patience. You can do this on your own, or to fast track yourself, feel free to contact me to arrange some 1:1 coaching sessions where we can experience and practice still mind listening together.
Many still mind listeners have embarked on a regular meditative practice. For some of us it is time set aside to meditate; for some of us it is working with the breath, such as yoga; for some of us it is having a regular time out with quiet exercise; for some of us it is time spent with nature; for some of us it is a simple powernap. What is your, or will be your, regular meditative practice?
“To listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words. You listen not only to the ‘music’, but to the essence of the person speaking. You listen not only what someone knows, but for who he or she is. Ears operate at the speed of sound, which is far slower than the speed of light the eyes take in. Generative listening is the art of developing deeper silences in yourself, so you can slow your mind’s hearing to your ears’ natural speed and hear beneath the words to their meaning.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Belinda McInnes, MCC.
ICF Master Cerfified Coach
Belinda MacInnes is an ICF Master Certified Coach, who commenced her coaching career in 1999. She is well versed in the intricacies of the global workplace and enjoys coaching executives as they manoeuvre their way through the complexities of global leadership. Belinda also mentors and supervises newer coaches, and she is the author of the pcbs Revisited.