A few months ago I gave a talk in Glasgow to a group of women who were either thinking about setting up their own business, or who had recently taken the plunge. Directly after my talk, a woman approached me and introduced herself. She told me her name and the name of her business and as I was about to start chatting to her I was asked to go and have my photo taken – so the conversation didn’t go any further.
However we had that sort of eye contact that happens rarely – it was like two souls recognising each other. And she gave off a sense of calm which was very attractive and appealing.
After the event I kept thinking about the brief interaction and was intrigued by the name of her business, which was ‘The Listening Business’ so I decided to get in touch with her to find out more.
June Grindley is a trained ‘Listener’ and when I made contact she immediately invited me through to her home in Glasgow to have a complimentary Listening Session.
On the train on the way over from Edinburgh, I had no idea what to expect, and had no idea what I’d actually want to talk about. At the beginning of our one hour session, June explained how the Listening Session would work; that I was free to talk about anything I wanted, that it would remain confidential, and that at appropriate times during our time together, she would reflect back – and at the end would spend a short period giving me an overall summary of what I’d felt and thought. There was a moment of me feeling slightly uncomfortable but once I got started, there was absolutely no stopping me!
I realised after my first Listening Session with June that the most beneficial thing about having someone really listen to me, in a safe environment, and to reflect back what I’ve said, is that I actually found myself with the space to properly listen to myself. What I mean is that often we have recurring thoughts and a feeling always accompanies them. Whilst we may have a recurring negative thought, rarely do we get to the source and take actions to remedy the feeling that arrives as a consequence.
When I was learning about public speaking skills I learned that the reason so many people find it so hard to speak ‘naturally’ (like we do when we have a conversation) when speaking to an audience is because we are so used to having people acknowledge what we’re saying (usually before we’ve even completed our sentence). This is why people participating in a conversation often say ‘hmmm’ and ‘uh huh’, to reassure the speaker that they are still listening. This makes the speaker feel that they are ‘in’ a conversation and not just being a fog horn fanny. But often the ‘listener’ isn’t listening at all, they’re simply thinking about the next thing they want to say. Obviously this doesn’t happen when presenting to a room (or auditorium) full of people. And as I discovered on my public speaking learning journey not having reassurance can be quite disconcerting.
On the other hand when you go to a Listening Session, you know beforehand that you are going to be listened to and not enter into a two way conversation. And the other person (the Listener) if they’re good, will be genuinely listening. And this is how it was with my session with June. I could actually feel her listening. And that brought with it a sense of peace. I could hear clarity in my voice and my thoughts that I don’t usually hear or feel.
Listening to yourself; really listening to yourself, doesn’t happen as often as you may imagine.
We think practically all the time. And thoughts lead to both feelings and actions. By having June listen to me, and summarize back to me what I’d said (using the same language that I used) helped me to realise that whilst I’ve had recurring thoughts, I haven’t truly listened to them; i.e. I haven’t chosen to make a positive change to a situation. And the definition of insanity, as Fergus, our new and brilliant Executive Coach from Shirlaws reminded me recently, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.
I realised that the real beauty of being listened to, is that it gives you the time and space to listen to yourself. To listen to what’s happening inside. When you make things different on the outside of yourself – this is change. When you make things different on the inside of yourself, this is transformation. I went through a transformation during that first session. I realised that in all cases that rather than being able to change the behaviour of people that bother me, I must change my own behaviour. I must change the perspective with which I view them. I must choose to be accepting – i.e. non-judgemental. I realised that even though I may not say the words that accompanying my thoughts (about other people’s behaviour), that they will be able to feel my judgements and will respond accordingly. By coming from a place of acceptance and love, this opens up the door to real change.
Since that session, Stephanie and I have invited June to come into our business and hold two Listening Workshops. They have transformed the way we think. We are now taking a long hard look at our behaviour and recognising that we can both get much better at truly listening to each other, our team, our customers, our suppliers and, of course, our selves.
The purpose of this blog is to share with you that we are making a commitment to learning how to properly listen; to make sure that we’ve heard people properly; to seek first to understand. We can be so quick in this world to want to get across our point, but to give someone the gift of listening is a rare gift indeed.
If only we could package it up and sell it as a gift voucher 🙂