Today I was on a coaching call and I was scared. It was the first five minutes of the conversation and I had this feeling that I’ve had before: this feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing.
As I sat there I could feel the fear coursing through my body. I watched the thoughts rise and fall. I can’t help this man. I have no idea what to say. I don’t know how I ever thought I could help him. As it arose, I sat and breathed. I had been here before. I knew what to do.
I simply slowed down, got really curious, and started to listen.
Two hours later he was getting off the phone with me, more clear and happy than he had been in a while. He thanked me again and again. It was one of the most powerful coaching calls I’ve had in a long time.
You might think there was some magic technique I used, some secret coaching trick that I employed to turn my fear into confidence.
There is a secret to having powerful conversations, but it’s not a technique or a process. You can’t learn it any book.
The secret is to listen. To slow down, to stay engaged, and to really listen.
Most of us don’t know how to do this. We know how to wait for our turn to speak. We know how to analyze the communication for valuable data. We know how to guess at what they person wants us to say. We may even know how to agree or disagree with them.
But listening deeply is different. It means being willing to hear someone else without having to fix them, without having to respond, without knowing where the conversation will go next.
It’s simple, but it’s also very hard. Our tendency is to try and think about talking or think about listening without actually listening.
But you can change it if you want to. If you want to listen more deeply simply do this.
- Sit down and look at the person who is talking.
- When they speak, notice what is happening for you and for them.
- As you listen, notice what you feel and experience.
- Stay with that.
- Be open to hearing what they have to say.
- Don’t worry if what they say is right or wrong, true or untrue, wise or foolish.
- Don’t worry if you have an opinion about what they are saying, and definitely don’t worry if they have an opinion about something or what it is.
- If you’re curious about something they said because you want to understand their experience, go ahead and ask about it.
- If you want to know details or facts or find anything out so you can make them right or wrong and so you can analyze the situation, let it go.
- When you think you hear what they are saying, reflect it back.
- But make sure you inquire instead of accuse.
- Don’t say “Oh you’re feeling this,” or “Oh this is what you mean.”
- Instead say: “Is this how you’re feeling? Is this what you mean?”
- If you have a story that you think would help frame their experience, then tell it.
- If you have a story that competes with or mirrors their experience, then keep it to yourself.
- Slow down.
- No even slower.
- Be okay with silence.
- Be okay with giving them time.
- Be okay with giving yourself time.
- Love them and yourself.
- Keep your heart open, especially when you feel it contract.
- Try to listen, but not too hard.
- Just be relaxed and open to their words.
- And don’t forget to slow down.
We all think we know how to listen, but true listening is hard. It requires the same kind of attention meditation does. You must be alert but relaxed. You must be kind and open. You must be willing to go wherever the conversation takes you. You must let go.
Listening takes a lifetime of practice. I practice it everyday, and I do it most a lot of the time. But listening is worth it. Listening heals wounds, it draws out wisdom, and it creates a space that is almost impossible to find in the world.
If you want to offer something of enormous value to those in your life, whether it be a friend, a client, a customer, a colleague, or even your own children, then learn to listen to them. Learn to be with them as they share their lives.