Magical Listening

Yes, social media is all about listening, you hear it all the time. I want to distinguish here between listening – as in I heard what you said and listening – as in I really took in what you said, chewed on it, and if it didn’t connect fully to me, I responded with questions. That seems like a weak distinction, let’s explore more. I think doing so is very worthwhile, for magical listening produces magical results.

I learned to listen when I was in coach training. Nothing very complicated… a very simple exercise that you can test yourself. First, we had an opportunity to give advice to our partners after hearing an issue they were exploring. Hmm, okay. Then we listened to them on another issue, taking in what they said and asking them for more. We asked them to explain their thoughts without imposing our own solutions. The difference in the results were so astounding! I still catch myself, at times, giving advice, I admit. However, at my best, the value I add to conversation is not my knowledge, but the space I create for the speaker to fully explore their own thinking.

coffee talk
Creative Commons License photo credit: AnyaLogic

In many cases, this makes sense. It is likely that the speaker knows more information about the situation. They have personal experience with it and the people involved. If I am really hearing them, I feel as if I am in their mind with them – moving from option to option, by their side. In some cases I may point back to something they have said and put it next to what they are saying now for comparison and alignment. This sounds pretty abstract, let me explain in another way.

Magical listening can be identified in person by the presence of some of the following characteristics:

  • Full eye engagement – either at the speaker or at what the speaker is looking at
  • Lack of interruptions – a magical listener doesn’t interrupt even when excited (I often fail at this one!)
  • Pauses – a magical listener lets a pause hang, giving time for reflection and encouragement to the speaker to continue exploring
  • Reflection – returning to the speaker what they have said, as in, “I think I understood you to be saying….”
  • Questions such as: tell me more about that, can you explain more about how those connect, what will that get for you, and is that a story you have about that?

Would you rather: have someone follow your words – hearing each fully? Let you lead and make space to explore? Or would you rather someone suggest options they think are best? (It might depend on the situation, as I can picture situations where each are appropriate. However, in my experience the latter is the default of most people.)

We long to be heard. We long for someone else to value us enough to hang on our words. We yearn for a sense of connection to someone outside of our own mind that values us enough to feel with us. Someone willing to step out of their ego-centric view of the world and walk with us in ours. When we are given that space, we can be our most creative, resourceful, and bold selves.

How can you be a more magical listener? The following is a list of things I notice myself doing, and I hope you will help add to this list.

  • Turn off your mental chatter and give all of your attention to what is being said to you as it is being said. Use any mental energy you have to notice what words are used, with what tone of voice and what body language.
  • Wait to think of what you want to say until after the other person finishes speaking, and then decide before speaking whether what you have to say is useful to you or to them? Is it a question or a statement? Is it a question you want the answer to or a question that will help them explore or gain clarity?
  • Notice emotional highs and lows and inquire into them. If someone can’t hold a gaze while saying something, ask about that. If someone’s face gets bright with joy, ask about that. Watch for the language of the body – does it resonate with what is being said? If not, ask about that.
  • Aim for your verbal contribution to be less than 10% of the conversation.
  • Use your body to indicate intense listening – eyes are either focused on the person you are speaking with or following their gaze, shoulders are squarely facing the speaker, arms are held open and show ease and patience (relaxed positions). If you must fidget, use it to take notes or draw in response to what you are hearing – make a mind map of the conversation.

How do you do magical listening? Please share in the comments! I want to learn to be a better listener too.

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