Hearing these simple words of gratitude at the end of a conversation was a new experience back in 2004. Now, I smile inwardly when I hear these four words, feeling like I’ve just been given an A+ on my personal growth report card.
Prior to 2004, when a leadership workshop opened my mind and heart to listening, my conversations didn’t typically end with words of thanks. As a school principal I had struggled with constant demands on my attention. The day typically began at my desk, checking email, when a teacher would appear asking, “I’m having some challenges with Julia, can we talk?”
I was happy to stop what I was doing to make time to listen. Being a good listener was high on my list of values. Even with that intention, I found it excruciatingly difficult to completely separate from a task, so that I could give 100% of my attention.
I had long wanted to become a better listener in these moments. But, wanting to be a better listener is one thing – knowing how to be a better listener hadn’t yet sunk in. The leadership training deconstructed the act of listening and was followed by my year-long work with a leadership coach. This powerful combination helped me to consistently practice these new skills in a way that enabled me to truly change. I recall the workshop facilitator, Dennis Sparks saying, “We move toward that which we’re clear about.” I was finally getting clear about listening!
Here are the 8 skills that helped me become a better listener:
- Choosing to be either a sender or receiver in a conversation
- Honoring the speaker without trying to help or change him/her
- Being fully present – giving 100% of my attention to the speaker
- Stopping myself from interrupting
- Paraphrasing or restating what the speaker had said
- Being comfortable with silence
- Listening between words to seek a deeper meaning
- Cultivating an attitude of curiosity
Putting these eight skills into practice is a constant challenge for me. It doesn’t come naturally but, the rewards have been worth the effort. As my listening abilities grew so did many of my relationships.
When I wrote about this in 2004, I was interrupted by a teacher who was standing at my office door. She had just returned from a difficult doctor’s visit. I moved away from my computer and sat beside her at the table. Putting my best listening ear forward I consciously chose to listen fully, without interrupting or filling in the silent spaces. After our tearful conversation, she stood to leave and glanced back at me to say, “Thank you for listening.”
Listening is a key ingredient to every conversation. Without listeners we’re just talking to ourselves.
So, if you were to describe yourself as a listener, I wonder, what would you say?