Viktor Frankl, one of the great psychologists of the twentieth century, survived the death camps of Nazi Germany. Frankl once told the story of a woman who called him in the middle of the night to calmly inform him she was about to commit suicide.
Frankl kept her on the phone and talked her through her depression, giving her reason after reason to carry on living. Finally she promised she would not take her life, and she kept her word. When they later met, Frankl asked which reason had persuaded her to live?
"None of them," she told him. What then influenced her to go on living, he pressed. Her answer was simple, it was Frankl's willingness to listen to her in the middle of the night.
A world in which there was someone ready to listen to another's pain seemed to her a world in which it was worthwhile to live. Often, it is not the brilliant argument that makes the difference. Sometimes the small act of listening is the greatest gift we can give.
Research says that we talk more than we listen. So true. Many of us have a need to be heard more than listen or even though we may want to listen to the other person we are simply not able to.
In a conversation with a group of leaders, it became evident that, though we all know the benefits of listening, there are many challenges which come in the way of being present to the other person.
Here are some challenges (C) & the suggested strategies (S) to overcome them:
C: When the other person goes on and on repeating the same things over and over…
S: Present your observation to the person and request him to come straight to the point. For instance, I heard you say this 3 times in this conversation. It seems like it’s very important to you…
C: When the other person becomes defensive and starts an argument…
S: Check if there is something in the way you are stating your point, are you assigning judgement / your perceptions / biases instead of stating facts.
C: You are too focussed on the need to listen & miss listening! (It may sound ironical but it is true).
S: Stay relaxed and it’s ok to share this with the other person. The other person then has a choice to bring you back to focus! Or, you can feed what you heard back to the person. This helps to stay on track!
C: When the other person becomes negative and brings in a whole lot of problems and no solutions & you are irritated and want to end the conversation!
S: Very gently bring this observation to the person and share how you feel. Request the person to also think of possibilities to solve the problems as well!
C: When you expect the other person to say what you want to hear…
S: This is a tall ask and may not be possible at all times. One of the possibilities here is to check your own need on the expectation!
C: There is something weighing on your mind which limits your being present to the other…
S: Postpone the conversation till you deal with your concern. Alternatively, you could share your state of mind with the other person and ask for postponement. I have personally seen the benefit of sharing in the here and now.
C: You know the person very well and based on your previous experience you have your judgements and biases which come in the way of listening.
S: Tell yourself that this is a new conversation and if judgements come, let them come and go and do not engage with them.
C: Your attention goes to the phone or any other gadget/laptop that is next to you & your urge to attend to the gadget gets you.
S: Put the phone on silent and upside down. It’s an indication to you and the other person that the conversation is important. Close the laptop or any other gadget.
C: We are already thinking of answers even before the person has completed speaking…
S: This is the most heard one. The trick here is to be find a cue that tells you that you are going to answer. Keep a ‘Stop’ cue card or sign handy till such time tuned listening becomes a habit.
Listening is a skill which can be developed with practice and intentionality. The more we learn to listen, the more we as leaders are able to connect, contribute and create a productive and successful workplace. To this…cheers!