Listening To Be Heard
15 August 2021
I had a brilliant discussion with a group of people. They all sat down. I felt comfortable enough to sit on the edge of the desk. As I spoke, my hands moved in a symphony with my words. There was no awkward silence. Indeed, it was a pleasure to feel every moment. I expressed everything I had on my mind in four different ways. It was so brilliant that no one felt the need to add anything to the discussion. We should have more talks like this.
We both know in our hearts that the idea of a good discussion does not mean the same to everyone. How did this happen? I do not feel there is one answer to this. Our personal experiences have some part to play. For example, where only the teacher talks throughout an entire lesson. Out of respect for patriarchs or matriarchs, we just do as we are told. Fear of being found out. Found out that we, in our minds but not reality, do not deserve to be in the position we hold. Fear of losing control. Fear of losing face. Fear of change. Indeed, quite a lot of fears. Perhaps, because of our inexperience with discussion as children, we confuse discussion with disagreement. Disagreement is a disharmony and so we seek to avoid it. Maybe you or me will take it personally. Maybe I will take it personally.
But why is the discussion so important? Our different cultures increasingly integrated through globalisation. Cultures with more hierarchical power structures blending with cultures with more equal distribution of rights. With the more robust thinking diversity brings to our teams, we can adapt and thrive in this changing world better, where teams align themselves to common goals and where opposing views are welcomed to ensure that we have a better outcome. We instinctively know that we will always harbour our own opposing view if it is not expressed or sincerely listened to. Harbouring these views prevents us from completely buying into the aligned view of the team. You can easily relate to this as an individual when a group of friends discuss which restaurant to go to. And you didn’t say what you wanted to say or nobody was listening. It is the same principle for teams in organisations and how effective we are at governing.
How do we get better at being heard? In some cultures, they use the talking stick. The person with the talking stick speaks and passes the stick on to another only once they feel that their point was listened to. Whilst I admire the discipline of the talking stick, I am not suggesting we go so far. The key for me is taking the time to listen. Let us start with the premise that discussion is not about winning. Let us not be the classic stereotype who is preparing in their own mind what they will say to strike a winning argument, whilst someone else is speaking. This is about finding the right answer - not winning. And whilst I would always like to think I know the right answer, I accept that I may not know. Only once my mind is clear that this is not about winning and that I may not know the right answer, I enter the discussion.
Try this for yourself. Listen intently to what someone is saying. Show them that you are listening. Maintain eye contact without staring too much to make it awkward. Ensure your body language is signaling positivity. Avoid distractions and avoid being distracting. So, no phone, laptop or fidgeting. Smile and nod encouragingly where you do agree, or you understand the point. Ask clarifying questions. Express what you have listened to in your own words to demonstrate that you have understood what has been said. Then build upon this. Do not start a new strand of thought. The chances are that you have laid the groundwork for listening to be heard.
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