Unlock the transformational effect of deep listening
It’s tempting, as a leader, to feel one has to take responsibility for e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g, particularly the well-being of one’s team. That’s a tough gig, particular when time and emotional resource is in short supply.
Here’s how you can release yourself from that burden. You’ll empower colleagues to be more resilient and self-sufficient. And strengthen your bond with them.
When I started out as a coach, I was full of imposter syndrome. I felt my questions weren’t insightful enough. I didn’t have the right experience. I was a giant fraud. (Many leaders feel the same way).
Then I heard Michael Neill’s lamp post story. This showed me how easy it is to support someone, by doing very little.
Here’s the lamp post story…
Imagine a man who develops a habit of stopping at a lamp post every day on his way home from work. He talks to the lamp post about his day, the successes and challenges, and what he might do tomorrow. The lamp post remains inanimate. It’s just there.
Every evening the man shares his concerns, expresses his fears, dares to articulate his desires, and explores his options. He has new ideas while talking to a lamp post. The man continues this daily practice and finds himself making significantly more progress at work, and at home.
“If a lamp post can be this effective”, Michael asked, “I wonder what effect you might have as a coach?”.
We can easily swap leader for coach in this story, and it still works.
Why is listening so powerful?
Being listened to well is a rare experience and unfathomably powerful. As one of our clients said recently:
“If you’ve never experienced it, you just don’t know”.
Around the time I heard the lamp post story, I took part in a listening exercise on a coach training day. We were partnered with a colleague, sitting side-by-side, facing in opposite directions. One of us simply talked about what was on our minds. The other was instructed to enjoy listening to the speaker as if listening to a piece of music. We did this for ten minutes and swapped.
The speakers started with fairly pedestrian topics. They then surprised themselves by delving into something they’d never before shared with anyone. The listener simply listened.
Released of all expectation, the listener was freed from any pressure to analyse, comment, be insightful or do anything at all. Instead, they witnessed the speaker and their story.
The speakers - often having shared emotionally raw information - felt unburdened. Their listener had kept them company.
Crucially, the speaker’s emotion wasn’t heightened by being analysed. The listener didn’t add perturbations to the speaker’s thinking by asking questions. This allowed the speaker to settle back into a state of calm, confidence and resourcefulness. Frequently they had some fresh thinking (aka new ideas) about the topic they’d shared.
Now, not all your listening as a leader will be quite as dramatic as you’d experience in a room full of coaches (with a predilection for sharing their innermost thoughts). However, the principle is the same.
Steadily listening, with unconditional positive regard, without the need to respond, trusting that person will do better for talking to you in lamp post mode. That’s a rare gift.
Of course, there is sometimes a need to ask questions, offer suggestions, check one is understanding the speaker, and lead the way.
Take this as a reminder though, that doing none of these things can be even more powerful.
Turn on your deep listening powers, and see what happens, with your team, with your family, with the next chatty person you meet on a train (I have forged decades-long friendships on the basis of unannounced deep listening to a stranger).
This simple act can be transformational for your team. Who will you practise on first?
With warm wishes from
The Creative Coaching team
Image by 1195798 from Pixabay
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