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Listening – so much more than a key skill

28 Sep 2021

Brigid Russell, Coach and Leadership Consultant, will be speaking at the President’s Conference on 6-7 October 2021. In this blog Brigid previews her talk giving insight into ‘listening – so much more than a key skill’.

Brigid Russell, Coach and Leadership Consultant, will be speaking at the President’s Conference on 6-7 October 2021. In this blog Brigid previews her talk giving insight into ‘listening – so much more than a key skill’.

Listening really well is fundamental to how we live our lives, how we work more effectively with each other, and how we nurture our relationships.

I know that it is hard to do listening well, and consistently. I am not going to put a gloss on that. When we feel really listened to, and when we listen deeply to someone else, it makes a qualitative difference to our conversations and our relationship. And that has to be worthwhile.

Who am I to talk about listening? Well, as a coach, listening is a big part of what I do in doing my job. I have learned, and continue to learn, a lot about the value and potential of listening through my coaching. There is something a lot more personal than that, though.

I have learned most about listening from my husband, Jim. He died of leukaemia, a matter of weeks before the pandemic in February 2020. Why am I choosing to share something so personal as the death of my husband? Well, I do not think that listening is about expertise and skills. We learn most about something as fundamental as listening from our practice, and in our relationships. From and with Jim, I learned about the power of really listening to each other – with humility, curiosity, love, and with a light touch as free of judgement as possible. There are things we can pay more attention to, practice more, get better at doing. Essentially, though, listening is all about our humanity, our empathy, and our curiosity about what is really going on for each of us, as well as for ourselves.

Listening and being listened to have enabled me to live with grief over the past 20 months, and to start to come to terms with living without my partner of 18 years – especially as he was someone who listened so deeply, and with such generosity.

Over the past year, I have been involved in #SpacesForListening (1) with my friend and colleague, Charlie Jones. It is a structured space lasting just under an hour, held over Zoom with eight people, and it is in the form of three facilitated listening rounds. It is a space to be listened to without interruption, and to experience the power of ‘just’ listening to each other.

Repeatedly, we have seen the benefit people derive from being able to share ‘what’s going on for me’, to feel heard and connected with other people as equals. We find, not surprisingly, that we have more in common than separates us, especially in terms of our experiences of the pandemic. Personally, in coming to terms with grief, I have experienced the positive effect of being heard and seen, without anyone else feeling the obligation to jump in to ‘fix’ my situation.

What are we listening for? 

For many of us, in our professional roles, we listen for the key facts in our interactions – to reach a diagnosis, to find some kind of convergence, to agree or disagree. That kind of listening has its place. But I think we all need more of another kind of listening, too. To listen without an ‘agenda’, with more curiosity, with fewer interruptions, and with less need to ‘check the facts’. When we experience listening like that, might we actually be able to hear more? To understand more – by listening beyond our formal role, and by being alongside each other as human beings?

Why is listening so very important, and what gets in the way of listening?

Listening has always been important, and no more so than now in the middle of the pandemic. Over this time, there has been so much loss and grief, so much trauma, so much noise. Reflecting on the theme of this conference, how we are all able to heal and recover will depend so much on how we feel able to share how we are really feeling, to listen to each other, and to feel heard.

Creating this kind of space alongside each other is not easy to do. Perhaps it feels so much easier (on the face of it) to keep on rushing by than to pause and to listen to each other with care, compassion, and curiosity. What gets in our way? Maybe we fear what we might hear from each other – that we might not understand, that it might overwhelm us, or that we’ll feel unable to do anything to ‘fix’ it? Maybe we are apprehensive about surfacing disagreements, and being confronted by our differences? And yet our experience, over and over again in #SpacesForListening, is that hearing each other and ourselves out loud is hugely affirming and reassuring.

Taking the time and the space to listen to each other, and to feel heard, is intrinsically healing and restorative. It is not necessarily about expecting answers and solutions. Sometimes we simply need to feel seen and heard.

What does it take to listen – and to listen well?

I have deliberately entitled the session ‘Listening – so much more than a key skill’. Yes, there are some things we need to do well to listen well. But I truly believe listening is about something so much more fundamental than “skills”. There are conversations we need to have, things we might find it difficult to say and to hear. If we are able to worry less about the next ‘best question’, if we can be more ourselves, be more human, then maybe we will actually be able to say and to hear more.

I look forward to spending time with people at the President’s Conference on 7 October – sharing more about my reflections and experiences of listening. And hearing so much more, too.

(1) For more information on #SpacesForListening refer to these blogs co-written by Charlie Jones and Brigid Russell: Spaces for Listening, Listening in practice, in the spaces in between, and Still listening and search #SpacesForListening on Twitter. Also see the webinar on Spaces for Listening on the Scottish Government National Wellbeing Hub.

Brigid Russell will be a speaker at the President’s Conference Time to Heal: Recovery and Renewal on 6-7 October 2021. The full programme for the President’s Conference can be found here.

Category: Wellbeing

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