Have you ever dared listening to another person without much on your mind?
I recently coached a successful CEO who wanted my professional input on how to introduce an innovative educational program to his employees. As he walked through the door and sat across from me, a few thoughts raced through my head.
- A guy this successful will want cutting edge tips, tools, and a creative plan of action to leave with to feel like he’s gotten his money’s worth.
- I’d better also come up with some great metaphors, connective stories, and relevant references, so his experience is rich.
- His line of work is not entirely familiar to me. How can I effectively speak to his situation with authority?
And so forth.
Instead of giving my thought stream any real airtime, I decided to simply let each whim go as it came. In short time, instead of pretending to listen to this man while chatting with my ego, I just listened. Not to my own agenda, but to him. He spoke for a good fifteen minutes straight, and instead of sharing every thought that seemed relevant, helpful, or impressive, I let each one go as it arose and came back to him with full presence.
The quieter I became, the clearer it became that my job was not to find his solution; it was to listen deeply enough so that he could find his own.
At some point, an authentic question rose up and out of my mouth and I asked it. He paused, put his two fingers on his chin to think, and spoke until he began to spark with his own a-ha’s. They were small a-ha’s at first, and at first I wanted to jump in with affirming words and personal insights. Instead, I trusted for his own wisdom to settle in, and I waited for him to see it for himself.
I began to notice that the more I listened to him freshly with nothing on my mind, the more clear, direct, and simple my insights came, and so did his. So when he finally asked me a question about his own potential foolishness and credibility, I answered him with the five-word observation, “It seems you’re just curious.”
And that was it. What once looked to him like taking a nervous risk, now looked like a fun game of marbles. What once looked to him like pinheaded prattle, now looked like innocent inquiry and play. In the moment he saw it for himself, his “bonus package” of pluck and perception and how to proceed arrived, and he brimmed with mirth.
Now the tendency of course is to say, “Hey, that was cool. Let’s unpack what just happened in that conversation and turn it into a strategy.” As if the genius of true creative intelligence could be replaced with a gimmick, which alas, it cannot.
This is why the often showy practice of ‘active listening,’ like leaning forward, nodding, making eye contact, and paraphrasing every 30 seconds or so in a effort to appear like we’re listening, doesn’t garner rave reviews. Stepping off the stage long enough for another person’s wisdom to shine through, however, can reveal the whole presented drama for what it is. A creative expression of thought, costumed in a motley of emotion, and acted out in the theatre of life.
Could it then be possible that the quality of our emotional experience in any given moment is not a result of a particular set, scene, or fellow players, but is in direct relation to the quality of our thinking about these things?
Could it also be possible, that when we listen to life with a quieter mind, we may more easily hear the truth of our divine identity, and our potential for peace and creation?
I’m curious what might happen if we began to listen to our spouse, children, colleagues and friends without the need to fix, affirm, negate, prove ourselves, or set the world straight. It might be a relief to trade in the director role for a seat in the balcony, eating our popcorn of peace, and cheering for one another with brightened trust.