When I did my coaching course with Barefoot Coaching one of the big themes was to stay with the 'not-knowing'; to stay curious about what we were listening to in order that we might stay focused on the other person.
It also helps us to remain open-minded. It's easy to react to what people are saying as we listen to them, particularly if we judge it to be right or wrong since we then mentally start preparing our counter-argument. This then changes our body language, changing theirs...you get the picture.
If you concentrate on staying in the 'not-knowing' then you delay any reaction you may be feeling. By demonstrating a genuine curiosity as to what they may say next and where they are taking the conversation you can hold the space for them to fully think things through and fully express themselves.
Staying with the 'not-knowing' means that we hold the belief that the person we are listening to knows themselves better than anyone else knows them
Listening is not the same as agreeing
Of course, we need people to poke our soft spots, to provoke a reaction so that we can learn (double loop learning), challenge our own ideas and thinking and/or let it go and move on so if you feel that you do disagree with what the other person is saying you can acknowledge it - either internally or externally by saying something like:
" I don't agree with that view, however, I want to hear you out fully"
This shows them that listening is not the same as agreeing, something which some people mix up and get fearful of.
If you are concerned the conversation you are about to have might be tricky then calm yourself beforehand and then remind yourself to stay with the 'not-knowing' and repeat as needed throughout the conversation. You could also try the following mantras or create another which works for you:
- [insert name of person] is worth listening to
- I don’t know how this conversation is going to unfold, but I want to connect with this person
- I'll listen for who they are and what they are about
- I will be curious about what they say
- I'll try to sense their perspectives, feelings, actions, and desires
This concept is called 'beginner's mind' in mindfulness/meditation and you see it beautifully in children. A child does something because they want to, they are waiting to see what happens, even if they have done it before. We never truly know what might happen and what the outcome will be. This can stave off another barrier to listening effectively: boredom. If we think we know what is going to happen next then we get bored and our mind wanders; by remaining in the 'not-knowing' we resist becoming bored.
"People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset I don't find myself saying 'soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner'. I don't try and control a sunset; I watch in awe as it unfolds" - Carl Rogers
Now I'm not saying it's easy but it will transform your listening. You will benefit from:
- becoming more comfortable with ambiguity
- relying on your own intuition rather than models and theories you have studied/heard
- being open to new ideas and outcomes
- becoming more self-aware of your own personal and professional biases
The person you are listening to will also benefit; they will be able to think for themselves and find their own solutions and, added bonus, you can encourage them to be as curious as a child - to unleash their inner child and ask themselves as many questions as a preschooler (hint...that's a lot of questions!) and to ask them without bias, judgement or prejudice.