At this season, when many of us are getting together with our families, it feels like a great time to write about the Art of Listening, which many of us leave under-cultivated. It’s so easy to unwittingly shut down communication when we don’t listen, and the simple act of asking questions and opening up to curiosity can have a major impact on how we experience our relationships with family, friends, or colleagues. I have found listening to be such an incredible tool in my life and, when I apply it, it can truly shift the way interactions occur for me.

Like many people, sometimes I get the feeling that I’m not being heard or listened to when someone starts speaking while I’m speaking. I do notice that for some people, and in some cultures, communication just seems to flow, but even so I still sometimes get attached to finishing my thoughts and making sure I’m getting my point across.

Recently, something really interesting happened that opened my eyes to a new way of experiencing this. I went to an event and witnessed the couple leading it, as they effortlessly finished one another’s sentences, and flowed (often one word at a time) from one person speaking to the other. I watched carefully as they “interrupted” each other. Neither one flinched. This went on for over an hour.

Finally I had to ask them “How do you both stay so calm while constantly being interrupted by one another?”

They put it simply. “Oh, we’re not interrupting. We’re finishing each other’s sentences. We’re speaking and then listening. And then speaking, and then listening.”

The man went further. “When my wife starts talking while I’m talking, I just go into listening mode. She may have something to say that I really need to hear, or have some really interesting idea I’ve never thought of. So I just listen. And then when I want to, I speak again.”

It seemed so simple. It was sort of like a game – a team sport. I realized that any conversation could be approached this way.

The art of listening was showing up for me all over the place.

Rewind about 4 weeks. I’d been on some calls with new prospective clients and was hearing myself talking, meanwhile wondering if what I was saying was hitting home for the person on the other end. So I decided to try something new. Instead of getting on the call and jumping right into explaining what my company does, I decided to first focus on them and ask questions to find out what they are looking for and why.

To my surprise, the people I spoke with were open and willing to share with me about their business, their industry, and their current needs. From there, I was able to speak directly to what mattered to them, and offer tailored services that would be relevant and have a real impact for their business. By taking this approach, I was valuing both their time and mine, making sure they’re not spending time listening to something irrelevant to their needs.

After trying this a few times I realized this was a key I had been missing! People were essentially telling me exactly what they were interested in and why, and this enabled me to get into my creative listening mode, where I learn, absorb, and then speak about what’s relevant for them. Why waste time talking about all types of videos and films my team can create, when the person on the other end of the phone is only interested in one or two of them?

Plus, it’s so much more interesting to listen first and find out who I’m speaking with before I talk about myself. I already know me! This is a chance to get to know someone else, and to learn about an industry that may be brand new for me.

In business, this type of listening is invaluable.

On a personal level too. While it’s definitely something that takes practice, when I use it well, it gives me the gift of ease in communication and allows the space for everyone to be heard, rather than the concern about making myself understood.

I invite you to share how this practice opens up new doors for you! When you share your own experience, you’re enriching our entire community.

Cheers & Happy Holidays!

Ben