My appreciation goes out to Judy Daniels, a leader and trainer on my business team. She is a fine example of one that is authentically accomplished in my field of work. Judy is a retired teacher and she is masterful at passing on the wisdom of our profession. Having great models to follow is critical for lasting success in life-business. I have always had the good fortune to have mentors available to me whenever I am ready to learn. “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Judy’s promise of success is simple, “Listen like you’ve never listened before.”
I decided to take on her task as an experiment to see what would show up and was reminded shortly into the exercise that simple doesn’t always mean easy. Although I am aware of the extreme importance of good listening and consider myself pretty good at it by nature, in hindsight it’s clear I had some practice to put in because once I really started listening with genuine interest, everything changed, especially me.
Fully listening is our greatest gift to another, the return on this wise investment, like any other, generates interest. Through active listening and asking questions we not only learn about others, we obtain knowledge about ourselves we just can’t get any other way. The better I know myself, the more I enjoy and understand others, the investment compounds. The more I understand others, the more I am able to effectively contribute and assist. Givers gain. Help others get what they want and our own wants are satisfied beyond what we could have hoped for standing on our own.
Listening is at the heart of thriving communities, find the heart of community and you’ll find more listeners than talkers. Everything I have learned to date has come through listening to others; nothing meaningful has been accomplished by myself.
A year or so ago I was like a kid on summer break wandering aimlessly while whining, “I’m bored.” Having worked almost exclusively online for many years as an early participant in social media I found the experience very empowering. I had expanded my view of the world and was finally free to be the real me. Over time as the evolution of social media feeds became numerous and noisy, I began feeling somewhat obscure. Eventually I stopped sharing my stories and froze up when my family and home-town friends started showing up in my world on Facebook. I suddenly became a writer that was no longer writing and became shy to share the rich content of my experience and knowledge as I had been before.
The call for balance between my online and offline worlds was knocking loudly. I wanted more than lurkers, followers and those labelled “friends”; I wanted “real” people to play and co-create with again! I was yearning for more connection and engagement within my community and found myself wondering where all those “just like me” were hiding and set out to find them.
Another of my teachers says, “There’s never a crowd on the leading edge.”
I truly understand that and even if it’s not a crowd, where are the others on it? For my experiment I needed people, the first step became showing up somewhere where I had someone to listen to!
Years ago, when it first launched, I signed into MeetUp.com, a website tool for connecting those in local areas with similar interests. As an early adopter, I had given up on finding an event in my own town, deleting their email alerts for years without reading them. Last summer in my searching I happened to open one of their emails and to my delight found a group meeting regularly near my neighbourhood. I immediately joined the BRANTS Entrepreneurs and RSVP’d to attend my first outing. I felt instantly at home and asked how I could help out. (Also interesting to note that as easy as it is to do, it had never occurred to me to start my own MeetUp.)
Today my calendar is crammed with fun, entertaining and educational events, well attended by the people I was longing to connect with. I co-organize the same group I joined last summer and facilitate my own Attitude of Gratitude MeetUp, it seems I am not the only one that was feeling this way. My kitchen table is frequently attended by the most interesting people stopping in for coffee and deep conversations. The phone rings regularly with invitations to participate in important and meaningful things, I have channels to volunteer and lend my talents to that previously weren’t open to me, and most importantly, business is booming again!
A grassroots revolution is taking place all around us – “community” is on its way back, something the Internet and working exclusively online has diverted many of us from. As connected as the Internet is supposed to have made us, I find we are as distant as ever with our neighbors next door.
I learned that listening isn’t something most people do at all let alone do it well. It is said we have 1 mouth and 2 ears, they should be used proportionally. Being truly present and fully listening to another takes “interest”. “Interest” is a function of the heart not the ears.
When one fully listens, perspective broadens and those most feared become those most endeared.
The most significant result and greatest gift to me from engaging in this experiment came as a complete surprise. I discovered that out of truly listening, for maybe the first time ever, I became heard. We all have a voice and if it’s not being heard it’s the loneliest of life’s experiences on this little planet of billions. Being heard, acknowledged and included by others is satisfying beyond all the stuff and money available, it’s why we came here in the first place, to experience, to interact, to create with each other.
Thanks for listening. Now go out and pay it forward! Someone out there is dying to be heard.
Experiment Parameters or Rules of the game:
- Show up, get out, get involved, offer to help someone.
- Be fully present wherever you are, it’s where you’re supposed to be NOW.
- Know you are with exactly whom you should be with, they have something to teach you.
- Everyone else is a mirror for what you’ve got going on, imagine you’re listening to yourself.
Helpful (not so simple) Suggestions for Practicing:
- Be unattached to outcome. Just listen for the sake of listening.
- Be open to whatever shows up and when it does show up, put it aside for later and continue to listen.
- Assume there’s no “right or wrong” only “preference”.
- Don’t judge while listening (see previous point).
- Don’t presume to know what’s next or finish other’s sentences.
(If you find yourself doing these things, put them aside and go back to listening.)