INsight/ Active To Listen

Manila, 1 March 2017 — Who has received the gift of your undivided attention this week, as you listened without giving advice? And who has taken the time to listen to you, deeply, without telling you what to do? It is not too late to make it happen.

During my work in Australia the past two weeks, I was reminded of the awesome power of active listening. It came in three ways.

First, I saw how the participants of the Water Leadership Program started practicing active listening after we had gone through the basics together in a workshop session. The benefits became apparent right away, through their practice.

Second, I received opportunities to practice active listening when some of the participants came to me for one-to-one coaching conversations. I never cease to be amazed by the miracles that happen in these conversations, empowered by confidentiality.

Third, I was fortunate to see my new mentor practice active listening with me as I started Thought Leaders Business School with a lot of questions. I am grateful for her time, care and attention, which empowered me to move forward with my challenging projects. 

Active listening is a valuable strategy and a powerful leadership behavior when you want to play the enabling leader role. Like any skill you learn, you get better when you practice it regularly.

Have you ever thought about why you were born with two ears and one mouth?

Looking at Ganesha—the god of wisdom and remover of obstacles from the Indian tradition—his two large ears are what attracts immediate attention.

With many reminders around us, why is active listening still such a challenge for us humans? Why do other people rarely receive this precious gift from us?

Three things is all it takes to get started, in my experience. 

1. Curiosity – stop thinking about yourself for a moment, and open yourself up to the person sitting next to you. What would you like to discover about her or his life, passions and strengths How will you do that? I believe that you know the way... by asking open questions.   

2. Focus – slow down, and notice how your mind continuously gives you ideas to talk about, and comments and advice to give to the other person. Don't do it. Hold them inside, and just listen. Get comfortable with pauses if the other person takes some time to respond to a question. 

3. Practice – show your interest by the way you sit and look at the other person, and practice smiling. Take your time, and be genuine in your feelings of curiosity, attention and care. Show appreciation. If you are new at this, don't give any recommendations. Just give appreciation.

You can practice active listening for 15 minutes or half an hour. Even 5 minutes will give a good start, and open the door to creating a better relationship. Observe what happens when you do.  

There are various models to help you make your active listening practice even more valuable. However, they all start with, and revolve around ... listening actively, so just get started doing that!

Who has received the gift of your undivided attention this week, as you listened without giving advice?
— Coach Wouter