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A little less conversation – a little more listening

Talking is something that has always come easily to me, whether I was being told off for chatting too much in class, debating in high school, or participating in heated discussions with friends. As I got older I learnt to harness my verbosity into becoming a communications specialist.

Moving into facilitation for me was an extension of this – I wanted to help others to have powerful, purposeful and productive conversations. My personal experience of meetings was pretty standard – people gather to talk about a topic, make action points and then move forward. How difficult could facilitating be?

But does this standard set up really ensuring powerful, purposeful and productive conversations? Probably not. Mainly because as well as the agenda on the table, people bring in their own personal agenda. This usually means individuals only being satisfied once they have made their point without really taking much consideration of what others are saying, once the point has been made their brains dissengage. We’ve all been there.

So during my journey into facilitation, I have become a really big fan of the power of listening in meetings. There are various facilitation methodologies that I have really learnt to appreciate over the past few years that help to generate amazing outcomes. Limiting conversations or not talking might seem counterintuitive, but actually it is amazingly liberating and productive. Mainly because it gives you space to listen. Theory U outlines four levels of listening. Learning about this revolutionised how I approach meetings. Depending on how people engage with these four levels can have a big impact on what can be achieved in and outside of meetings.

Firstly there is downloading, this is what we all generally do in meetings. It is very direct, and usually only occurs when the individual is familiar with what they are hearing/being told, and are therefore only listening to confirm what they already know, or their current opinion, which is likely not to change.

Secondly factual listening – this is something we do with curiosity and open minds. This is much more useful in a meeting context. People employing factual listening are attentive to new ideas and information, they are accepting of differences from what they already know,  and are open to changing their views.

Empathic listening uses a mixture of factual listening with emotional intelligence. This type of listening is essential in any kind of stakeholder meeting. This is the ability to truly connect with the individual who is doing the talking – and changing perspective. It can also create emotional bonds that lead to supportive outcomes.

Finally there is what Otto Scharmer calls generative listening. This is the jackpot. This is the eureka moment, when suddenly there is clarity and new and exciting ideas emerge. This is something that everyone should endevour tap into. By ensuring that people are given the space to really to slow down, breath and avoid non-stop information and data exchange, real creativity and innovation can emerge.

I have the pleasure of working with many great organisations that are tackling our ever complex world and its challenges. One of the main discussions I have with them when designing an agenda for a meeting – is creating this space – to give silence and listening a chance to ensure that exciting new solutions emerge. Also if given the chance – I like to encourage all participants of my meetings to really give deep listening a go and to cut back on all the chat. One methodology I can’t wait to put into practice is a silent brainstorm! If you want to know more or fancy giving it a go please do get in touch.