Case study: What happened when I started to listen

The theme this month has been listening and we have covered listening in your business, personal and career over that time but today I wanted to do a case study on Sarah, a friend of mine whose life changed when she started to listen. We sat down earlier this week to talk over the difference that listening to others made.

How has listening made a difference to your life?

I feel like my relationships – professional and personal, are stronger. I have connected more deeply with the people I love. On a day to day basis, at work, I feel like I know my colleagues more, I feel like they trust me and respect me more than before. It feels good. I have also noticed that people listen more to me too, by which I get less advice and fewer interruptions. That feels good too. I feel calmer, more grounded, more in control. I consciously choose to listen now. It means I am more present in the moment, I don’t feel like life is passing me by. I listen better on the phone too, it’s helped all round really. I can’t really explain it very well, sorry!

When did you realise you needed to listen?

I remember it really clearly, I was listening to my friend talking and they were upset, it started really well but then she just started going on about the same thing she was always going on about – her relationship. I zoned out and was thinking about what else I needed to be doing and how inconvenient this all was for me. When I zoned back into the conversation she was silent, I felt like I had missed something and she looked pretty annoyed. I didn’t know what to do. So I gave her a hug and said how sorry I was and that I would do what I could to help.

I felt awful inside. I was embarrassed that I hadn’t given her the full attention she needed in that moment. I felt like a horrible friend. I wanted to make a change and so for my new year’s resolution (inspired by you actually!) I decided 2017 would be the year that I listened more fully to everyone.

How would you describe your listening before that moment with your friend?

Well, since reading up on it a bit more over the last 8 months or so, I guess I would say that I listened to reply i.e. I felt that when people talked to me I thought the best thing I could do was to advise them. That made me feel like I had made a difference and my ego felt satiated. I would also interrupt people to give them this advice. I would say, I didn’t mean to annoy or hurt them, I genuinely did it from a place of kindness. Now though, I know that’s not the best way. I think we are conditioned – socially I mean. How often do we ask “how are you?” and hope to goodness the other person responds with “oh, I’m fine, how are you?” Do we really want to hear the answer?

How do you listen now?

Now I listen without intent, I just listen. I try not to say anything at all and I have got used to allowing silences – they can be really powerful. I guess I recognised that before but felt the need to plug the hole so to speak. I wasn’t comfortable with silence. Now I clear my mind and really focus on what the other person is saying. I try and look at their eyes and facial expressions – they tell you a lot about how the person is really feeling. I try not to offer unsolicited advice – I don’t always manage it but I know this is a journey

What has helped/helps you listen more intently?

Honestly? Reminding myself what it feels like when someone listens to me. I experienced that recently and it’s magical. I never realised how much we all interrupt each other. I feel more connected with the person I am listening to, sometimes I am not even sure I need words when it’s a really good listening experience. If I feel the need to say something I try and ask myself why I want to know…again, sometimes the words are out before my brain has engaged but it’s getting easier!

What tips would you give someone else?

I would definitely recommend the Nancy Kline book, ‘Time to Think‘ that really changed the way I started thinking about giving people the respect and space they deserved through listening. Also, try and get someone to listen to you – to see what it feels like. It is life changing, honestly, that’s how I feel about it. Oh and start by listening to people you care about, then you can move outwards to the people you meet everyday. Finally, (and I think you say this Charlie), make space to listen to people – clear your diary so you aren’t thinking about what else you have to do, leave the shopping list on the paper…nothing is as important in that moment as listening. If you really need to, give them another time. You need to manage expectations; both yours and others’.


Leave a comment