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Friendly, Curious Listening

Posted on November 10, 2018 in Uncategorized

Listen to the person that challenges you as though they are a teacher. Suspend your own agenda momentarily. Become friendly and curious. See what you learn.

We all know that listening is a good thing and we should do more of it. There are many things that can get in the way. If you don’t care, don’t have time, don’t want to hear what’s being said or think it’s a waste of time, your listening will be hampered.

Listening is more than just closing your mouth. True listening is a multi-layered and complex skill. But it is essentially a decision to set your agenda aside and be present and attentive to another person. This can be a tremendous act of courage and kindness.

When you really listen to another person you’re actively saying to the other person: “I value you and what you have to say and will give you my attention, time and energy while you speak. I’ll even do this if you say something I don’t want to hear”.

Kind, courageous listening is easier when you take an attitude of friendly curiosity, especially when you hear something that makes you uncomfortable. This requires suspending your agenda for a while.

For example, Suzanne, a Director in a global software company, was used to thinking fast, making quick decisions and acting on gut reactions. When she was angrily confronted by one of her sales managers she initially felt shocked. But this quickly shifted to angry defensiveness. Her attention was focused on warding off the attack from her manager and this became her emotional agenda. As a result, she couldn’t really listen.

The conflict between them, not surprisingly, didn’t go away. With a bit of prompting, Suzanne tried something new. She became curious about what was going on with the manager and showed a friendly interest in what he was saying.

When she approached him this way, Suzanne was happily surprised to see the sales manager’s anger almost immediately start to melt away. They went on to have a productive discussion about the issue that he was concerned about. She also learned about an upcoming business challenge that had been invisible to her.

Even though Suzanne was surprised, the process was highly predictable. When people are listened to, they feel “heard” and valued. Most people really appreciate this! As a result, they will very often drop their guarded, angry positions.

You don’t have to abandon your agenda, just set it aside long enough to take in what is going on for the other person.

Curiosity is your best ally here. Friendly or warm curiosity is even better. It invites the other person to connect and make contact. It can also be an enjoyable state that supports learning. This is a powerful base for productive work of any kind.

Action Steps:

1. When someone challenges you, notice how you react. Notice how your body, emotions and thoughts can all go into a familiar defensive pattern.

2. Notice how this defensive pattern affects how you feel; about yourself, about your relationship with the person who challenged you, about the activities you’re involved with.

3. When you are in a guarded or defensive state, take note of any emotional agenda. Are you aware of how this shuts the other person out?

4. Practice setting aside your agenda(s) for how things are supposed to be, for just a few moments. See what opens up for you.

5. Practice friendly curiosity. Play with it as an attitude of warmth and openness. When you’re ready, try it in a conversation with someone who challenges you.

6. Notice how friendly curiosity can alter not only how you feel and act, but how it affects those you are involved with.

7. If you know of someone who could benefit from this information, please pass this information on. This can be a friendly way to start a discussion about communication.

8. Subscribe to the Enlightened Edge™ newsletter.