Feeling the Listening Love

Posted 05.28.2010

One of the highlights of the week for me came yesterday when I led a day long workshop on leadership coaching for a group of candidates for the Federal Senior Executive Service. We talked a lot about how important it is for leaders to know how to coach and worked on different skills and models for coaching. 

Of course, a core skill for any coach is listening. We worked on that skill by grouping up in threes with one person talking about something that mattered to them, another person listening and asking questions and the third person observing the listener. After three or four minutes of conversation between the first two people, the observer offered a minute or two of feedback to the listener. The feedback consisted of two or three things the observer appreciated about how the listener listened and one suggestion for how to be an even more effective listener. We did three rounds of this so everyone could be in each of the three roles.

As the second round ended, I asked the group to bring their attention back to me for a second so I could ask them if they were feeling what I was noticing watching them. What I was noticing was the love in the room.  Here’s what I mean by that and what it might mean to you.

It was so cool to watch a room full of people really listening to each other. Everyone was smiling, heads were nodding, the energy was electric, faces were open and light. I asked the group to tap into what they were feeling and why they were feeling it. We all laughed knowingly when I asked everyone, “How often do you feel like like the other person is really, fully listening to you? Would that be like hardly ever?”  It’s sad but true that most everyone agreed with “Hardly ever.”

So, what made the difference in that session? Why was the listening so rich? Here’s my theory – it’s because everyone knew they were being observed as a listener and were going to get some feedback on how they were doing. That compelled everyone to be fully present and focused as a listener. Unfortunately, we get less and less of that these days. 

Want to be a better listener? Here’s a tip. The next time you’re in a conversation with someone pretend there’s another person there observing your listening skills. My guess is you already know how to be a good listener.  The challenge is focus. If you knew you were going to get immediate feedback on your listening, you’d be a much better listener. So, go ahead and show up as a better listener. You’ll love the results and so will the person you’re listening to.