“Listening is the willingness to be changed by what we hear.”
I still think that listening to someone – really and truly listening to someone – is one of the hardest things to do. And one of the most essential, especially as a leader. Because, as Tara Brach says, unless we’re willing to change what we “know,” what we believe, and sometimes even who we are, we’re not actually listening. As a leader, we need this openness to ideas, perspectives, and other people’s views and needs to connect with others and lead effectively.
But it can be hard.
In many ways, as Executive Coaches, we get paid to listen. Sure, we’re also supposed to share observations, provide support, challenge assumptions, and cheerlead our clients’ accomplishments and wins, but when we do our job well and provide the most value, it’s because we are listening deeply. And, even with my training, there are times when I have to work hard to truly listen.
I’ve been regularly meditating for quite some time now, and as that practice has strengthened, so has my ability to pay attention to my mind and its moment-by-moment shenanigans. This has given me some capacity for paying attention to how I’m paying attention whilst I’m listening.
Again, Tara Brach is right. I can notice the strength of my convictions at times, the certainty with which I see the world (or my client’s situation), and if I’m not willing to let go of that certainty, then I can’t actually listen to my client in the way they need. I can’t be with and for them. I can’t provide support and challenge assumptions.
So how do we listen that fully and completely? How can we learn to be willing to be changed? These three mindfulness practices can help:
- Stay in the moment – Simply staying present in the moment and with the conversation is a first great step, although it’s not that simple to do. Our minds wander, argue, and get stuck in our own belief systems, but when we notice our breath and the physicality of the moment, we are more likely to be present and to be able to listen.
- Notice your certainty – When I pay attention to how sure I am about something, it’s easier for me to pay attention to how closed I may be to the other person’s viewpoint, and to call myself out and potentially shift my approach.
- Challenge yourself – Being willing to be changed means being willing to challenge myself – my beliefs, my certainty, my view of myself as an open and present listener. When I can, again, call myself out, I am more likely to bring myself back to fully listening.
Listening – really listening – can be extremely hard to do, as it requires a willingness to open our minds and our hearts and, as Tara Brach said, to be willing to be changed. It is also one of the most rewarding – and powerful – things to do.
How have you learned to listen more effectively and fully?
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