At a recent training, I described the Loop of Understanding and then asked the participants to practice in pairs listening to each other and demonstrating to the speaker’s satisfaction that the listener-looper had fully understood what the speaker intended to communicate. In the follow up discussion, one participant said “it was such a pleasure to be listened to so fully.” I too have felt that pleasure when I have experienced someone else wholly committed to listening to me with the goal of truly wanting to “get me.” A couple of weeks later, in the middle of a lively discussion about ethics in a Collaborative study group, three other people started talking at once, and kept talking, seemingly unable to yield the floor to the others. I too have felt that compulsion to speak up so vigorously about something I felt strongly about. However, at the time, I was just plain irritated.
If I make the effort to listen deeply to someone else and set aside my own reactions, thoughts, and distractions, a clarity about their thoughts and feelings can emerge. As a listener, I find this quite satisfying. However, if I have strong opinions about the topic, it can also be frustrating to wait to be able to speak. This happened to me a couple of days ago during a business meeting about a sensitive topic. The sense of urgency to speak up increased and my actual listening plummeted. I replaced listening with my own analysis, sometimes to point of reworking it as I thought about what I would say next. At the first available pause, I jumped in. While there was a momentary relief at adding my opinion to the mix, the pleasure, understanding and satisfaction that accompanies a listening conversation was lost.
So in the next few days, I’m going to strive to be more attentive to the balance and interplay between listening and speaking, especially when it’s a topic I feel strongly about. I’m going to listen as fully as I can, take a moment to reflect, and then speak from the resulting blend of what I have understood from listening to others and my own thoughts.