A journey into active listening
Life to me is a richly textured web of networks created through my interactions with others. The quality of those connections have a direct impact on my levels of happiness and how I experience life.
I feel incredibly lucky to have relationships that produce wonderful conversations spanning far and wide across vast landscapes of topics and emotions, from the deeply significant to the superbly silly. I come away from those conversations with a happy and content glow inside. I do however also get caught up in frustrating communication loops where the people involved (myself very much included!) seem to talk past each other rather than listen, repeating themselves in a bid to get their point heard. Have you ever had that feeling when you’re not quite sure whether to scream, curl up in a ball or simply run out of the room? I definitely have.
That’s at the dramatic end of the scale of course. What happens more often is that I find myself listening to respond rather than to actually understand what the other person is saying and enthusiastically jumping in (or perhaps interrupting) to get that response in sooner rather than later. Let’s just say it’s not one of my favourite things about myself!
When I came across the opportunity to take part in a five week evening course on Active Listening & Peer Coaching, I jumped at the chance. I was thirsty for knowledge of how to enhance the way I communicate with others and deepen my connections with the people around me.
Based on a mindset of non-violent communication and abundance rather than scarcity the techniques focus on finding mutual solutions rather than trying to compete and win. The idea is that through trust we can overcome separation and move towards connection.
The course was intense from start to finish, deftly and compassionately led by Jonathan Kahn. With just the right balance of instruction and hands-off approach he guided our group of 10 on a rollercoaster journey of insights, sometimes bewildering but invariably showing me something new with each twist and turn. Class was small snippets of theory, followed by practice working in pairs, taking turns to peer coach each other and practice our active listening skills. Each week we had one “real-world” practice to do, with the chance to talk through how this went in the next class. There was also a small amount of homework to do, but nothing beyond the realms of possibility whilst working. This format worked perfectly to keep the course work at the forefront of my mind during the week rather than confined to the brief 2 hours in class.
The most enlightening conversations I had as part of my practices were with friends although the course is more geared towards a professional context. One was with my best friend of 20 years where a deep conversation unveiled things we never fully realised or discussed until then. This allowed a new, shared perspective to unfurl. On another occasion the active listening techniques I was practicing led to an insight for a friend around the direction of their career which hugely surprised both of us.
The most important thing I have taken away is the experience of how empowering it can be to hold back from putting myself into the equation and allowing the space for another to explore their own solutions to a situation. The urge to to try to fix the situation for them or offering up my own previous similar experiences is still deeply embedded in me, yet the groove of this new way of communicating is becoming more familiar with each interaction, especially the ones where I consciously practice the methods I learnt.
About Jonathan Kahn and #dareconf
Originally a web developer, Jonathan organises #dareconf, agile content conf, and a meetup about content which has 2000 members. He leads workshops where people learn to build trust using communication techniques derived from facilitation, conflict resolution, and improvisational theatre. He blogs at lucid plot and is @lucidplot on twitter. Click here to read more.