Go On. I’m Listening.
So I’m sitting in my favourite café/bookshop and I observe this.
There’s a lady on her phone, very earnest, sitting down and making her point. Really making her point.
And then she finishes. Must be the other person’s turn then. You’d think.
So what does the lady do? Listen attentively for example? Well no actually. She stands up, holds the phone to her ear, and wanders over to the counter to buy a coffee. Then she flicks through some books, grabs a newspaper to read, and scrolls through her phone.
Is she listening? I don’t think so.
Is she only truly interested in what she has to say? Seems like it.
Just imagine this if you’re on the other end of the phone. You hear “small americano with hot milk”, the hissing of the coffee machine, muffled conversations, the crinkling of the newspaper, and the “ping” as new really important messages land on the lady’s phone.
And all the time you’re hoping (are you really?) that you’re been listened to. That your opinion matters.
I have seen a meeting where the manager, in an apparent spirit of consultation, asked a question of the group, and then for the next five minutes whilst they attempted to answer him, was nose-down in his phone. Did that team feel valued? Were they truly being consulted? Nope, on both.
Then there was the large gathering where one group, having had their turn at speaking, all (all – no exceptions - that meant five of them) got their phones out and completely disregarded the views of the next group to speak.
Listening, I observe, is a true skill. And maybe quite a scarce one. It’s also one of the most generous things we can offer to another person.
Listening is not about half-hearing what you have to say and then topping it with a story of my own. Listening might involve asking questions, and really trying to understand and even learn from what you have to say.
Listening is about recognising my potential for learning from you. Maybe about helping you just by being prepared to shut up and listen. It’s certainly about respecting you.
So listening takes time. It takes sacrifice.