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  • helenjbutler

Are you really listening?

At the dinner table last night my five year old daughter pipes up:

‘Right, we’re going to go around the table and everyone can talk about what they’ve been doing today. You first mummy’.

I was impressed, and began to talk about a meeting I’d had in the morning. I was describing details I thought she’d find interesting when you could see that she could hold it in no longer, and burst out with:

‘I stood on Eva’s legs in gymnastics! And I got a shiny sticker!’

You’ll no doubt recognize this type of discussion from the dinner tables as well as the meeting room and board room tables the world over. We all know we should listen better, but we still have those unrelenting voices in our heads that are constantly telling us how we can swing the conversation around to what we want to talk about, or some brilliant anecdote that we’re just dying to tell people, or simply to state the equivalent of ‘me too!’. We might do it slightly more subtly than my five year old, but the effect is exactly the same.

Meetings are too often dominated by big personalities, and others just give up trying, and so we all miss out on their considered ideas and their new perspectives.

Barriers shoot up and motivation creeps down in our teams and we struggle to understand why. This may seem extreme but it’s also a reality in a world that often seems to reward the ones who shout the loudest, longest. But this is exactly what’s holding us all back from achieving our best work.

You’ve probably also occasionally experienced the rare joy of really being listened to. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, you feel valued, respected and also therefore, tend to think more deeply and clearly. Isn’t that how you want your team to feel?

So what can we do about it? In her book Time to think, Nancy Kline promotes the idea of creating listening environments, which promote not just better listening, but the usual outcome of this, better thinking. What this means in real life is meetings where everybody has exactly the same airtime and the big unbreakable rule is that nobody is allowed to interrupt until everyone has had the chance to share their thoughts, opinions and ideas. This gives everyone the time, space and attention that they need to contribute and think on a much deeper level.

Why don’t you try the method out in your next meeting? And join in the fight back every single day: listen properly, try and silence your mind chatter, and give the person you’re talking to the respect and attention they deserve. You’ll be reaping the rewards from it sooner than you think. And if you have or know any kids, then the most valuable gift you can give them this Christmas is to ask them what they think and then really, truly listen to their answers.

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