There is a fun camp skit that depicts two people having a phone conversation. Person #1 is instructing Person #2 over the phone, how to fold a bandanna and to properly use it as a head covering. Person #2 listens very intently and follows the directions to a tee except for their misunderstanding of one word. They heard Person #1 to say the word “banana” instead of “bandanna”. Of course, Person #2 is holding a banana while doing everything they are told including folding it and putting it on their head. Finally, Person #2 asks the clarifying question,
“Did you say banana?”
I wonder if you identify more with Person #1 or #2 in that scenario. To borrow the lyrics of “Sound of Silence” completely out of context, we all have moments when we tend to be “people talking without speaking” and “people hearing without listening”.
Listening is one of the more rewarding aspects of being a coach. Some of my favorite moments from this week have been the engagement with coaching participants in a manner that allowed me to be totally absent of any agenda of my own. It is much of what gives power to the coaching process. I get to show up with my energy and have no attachment to the outcome. It is in those moments, I am free to listen best. It is rewarding because, like you, and the rest of planet Earth, I spend way too much time hearing without listening.
When we meet someone, we consider interesting, we often feel this way less because of what they tell us about themselves and more about what they learn about us.
We also know people we count as terrible listeners. Isn’t it the worst when you can tell someone feels you are not worth their time? Like the boss who can’t seem to put their phone down or get off their computer when you are in their office for a “meeting”.
On the other hand, have you ever stopped to think how powerful it can be to listen at a deeper level or wondered how many levels of listening exist? With some reflection, I’m sure you could break the levels down further, but I will suggest three.
Level One: You listen in order to meet your own agenda. You ask yourself, “What does this mean to me?”
Level Two: You listen to know what is really in the heart of a person. You ask yourself, “What does this mean to him or her?”
Level Three: You use the power of questions and transformational thinking. You listen to know the heart of God for that person. “What does this really mean in the Kingdom of God for him or her?” (This is not authentic if it does not come from the Holy Spirit.)
(If that “Christian”ese makes you uncomfortable, the secular way of saying it would be that you listen to what is being said to understand its importance to this person’s whole life as you understand it).
It is Level Two and Three that are the gateway to transformational learning but even when you consciously choose to listen at a deeper level, it doesn’t guarantee transformation. It is usually our desire to problem solve or sympathize that get in the way.
Listening to problem solve is expedient and sometimes sympathy is too, but neither are transformational. We decide to honor our co-workers, our spouses, friends or children by allowing our own agenda to be interrupted. We intentionally put aside distractions to give the person our attention. We try to get outside of ourselves and focus on the bigger picture for the other person. Once we feel like we have all the facts, our analytical or sympathetic mind goes to work. These are not bad traits, but when we are willing, we can encourage the other person to be empowered by giving them space to tap into their own resourcefulness and not just ours.
When once, as a listener, you discipline yourself to back off and give the speaker room (time and space) to discover the answers that are right with them and you know in your spirit that personal growth has just taken place, you experience a moment so special, it becomes difficult to be satisfied with less.
I’m sure you know this already. But try it out this weekend. Practice Level Three listening and resist the urge to swoop in too quickly. If you need a bit of inspiration for this,
click HERE, Grasshopper.