One of the ironic effects of the hyper-connected age we live in is that there is very little true listening going on. As I write about in my new book, there’s a lot of transient listening in which we’re so preoccupied with all the thoughts of our multitasking minds that we hear each other but don’t really listen.
Higher up the value chain is transactional listening in which we’re listening with the goal of accomplishing something or solving a problem.That’s important but doesn’t really do much for the heart and soul.
Then there’s transformational listening which is when we slow down, focus and listen to another person just for the sake of listening. It’s listening without distractions or in service of a particular agenda.
In a lot of my workshops and presentations on mindful leadership, I ask people to practice transformational listening. It’s a really simple process of asking people to work in groups of three where the first person talks about something important to them (it could be a family matter, a trip, a book they’re reading, something at work, anything really). The second person just listens and asks any questions that come to mind. The third person observes the listener. We do three seven-minute rounds made up of five minutes of conversation between the speaker and the listener followed by two minutes of feedback for the listener from the observer.
It’s a simple but powerful exercise. It’s not uncommon to hear sincere laughter or see people leaning in closer as they talk. Sometimes there are tears as people talk about things that are really important to them. It’s always hard to end the exercise because people want to keep going. Invariably, they’re struck by how engrossed they became during a five-minute conversation where the only agenda is to listen. They are usually thirsty for more.
I say thirsty rather than hungry because you can survive longer without food than you can water. What I’ve learned from conducting this exercise over the past year is that people are in desperate need of transformational listening. The good news is you don’t have to wait for a workshop exercise to experience it. Why not try it today or this evening with someone who’s important to you? Sit facing each other and commit to taking five minutes each to listen to the other person talk about something that’s important to them. That’s only 10 minutes of your time. My guess is you’ll feel so amazing afterwards that you’ll decide to go longer.
Please take five minutes to give transformational listening a try and let me know through a comment or email what difference it made for you and the other person in the conversation.