Without Effective Listening - Listening Loses Effect

The way that I see this, is that through talking we carve the direction.  And, through listening we create the space from which understanding occurs.

Hence, when I think of leadership it occurs to me  that effective leadership is the manifestation of ‘direction with understanding.’ 

Making space for listening is what allows the inner dimensions of listening to arise. Working from the insight that the only thing that liberates and encourages people’s capacity to listen is the experience of being listened to and being heard themselves, as well as having the intention and the care to understand the other.

Inner Dimensions Of Listening

It occurs to me that one of the main reasons that I focus on the area of listening is because I see so much suffering and needless misunderstanding in our world and in day-to-day life. How often have you heard it said, or have said to yourself: “Is anyone listening?” On the subway, in political conversations, in the media, in schools, at work, in families — everyone is talking, but who is listening?

We are taught how to speak from the moment we are born. We are educated to speak well and are rewarded for it. But, no one gives us any instructions about listening – certainly not in elementary school or High School.  In most cases, we are told to listen but not truly taught how to listen.  We say and hear the following:

  • Listen to me.
  • Look at me when I am talking to you.
  • You are not listening to me.
  • You can’t talk and listen at the same time.

Because of this, we have grown into patterns of communicating which are fundamentally based on talking. Typically, listening is backgrounded in conversation and is mainly used to gather clues for what to say next. The emphasis in our mental focus is in forming talk. The result is: we are constantly talking to each other yet rarely listening. And, what listening we do practice is, effectively, a servant of our talking.

Yet, listening is THE essential element of communication. It is more important than any other element of communication in creating understanding. Listening is, especially, an essential part of successful leadership. Without effective listening, leadership loses effect.

Listening As Receiving

Try this simple exercise:

The next time you are in conversation, suspend, just for a moment, any expectation you have in your listening. Your simple letting go of that one thing for one moment will produce an effect.  Try it a few times and you’ll see.  When you listen with expectation, you “meet” the other with your expectation. It is like a gesture saying “well,” “but,” “if.”  It is a hand held up between you.  When you drop expectation, even for a moment, you “receive” the other as they are in the moment. That produces an entirely different gesture that will be perceived and you will notice the difference.

People don’t want to be simply “heard.” They want to be seen. They want to be recognized. They want to be understood. A person may feel they are “heard” when they are met with attention. But, they will feel recognized if they are “received” and they will feel understood when they perceive that they are received as they are.

The Healing Power of Listening

When we listen to one another without anticipation, expectation, or self-interest, it becomes possible to know one another in entirely new ways. All the “isms” of human history are monuments to the difficulty in doing this. Yet, there is really nothing standing between us.

Every once in a while something different and deeper touches us.  There is eye contact. We stop listening for some thing to happen.

The other is there in front of us and direct connection bridges the conventions of looking and listening that separate us. In an instant, we are no longer strangers.  Many people reported experiencing this, or something like this, in the hours and days after 9/11.  The shock of what had happened suspended the illusion of separation. The whole world had experienced something together and in that experience had realized their essential common humanity.   Total strangers looked at each other and spoke with each other everywhere.

Listening directly into the present is essentially a healing activity because it restores wholeness to our experience.

AND it allows us all to be as we are.