Few days ago I stumbled across an inspiring article by Kelly O’Brian. It reminded my about the joy of mindful listening.
Kelly O’Brian published her personal story about producing short, philosophic films about life. The ideas for her films solely come from questions asked by her kids on a daily basis. You need to know, that one of the kids has severe disabilities. A fact, which makes us listen differently to these questions and thoughts. They create their own mind-blowing power.
Stunning and Stumbling
One might say, that a question like „Why are so many people out there, who don’t know me?“ is pretty stupid. But it isn’t anymore, if you consider to whom you are talking. Having a five-year girl with obvious disabilities in front of you, it is becoming a pretty interesting question. What makes a little person like her ask such a question? Thinking about it starts to many of us stunning.
I would like to transfer this experience into our workplaces! In every workplace we have leaders. Typically leaders are taught to listen to their employees. They are asked to find out about concerns and issues of their employees to bring solutions. But, this leads to a misconception of the conversations.
Quite often leaders even do hard to ask questions instead of just telling about their expectations. But even many of those, who have learned to ask questions, are understanding it as a basis for their argumentations. It is missing a real interest in the motivations and thoughts of the employees. Many questions and comments seem to be pretty stupid. It looks like they do not know better. It is a consequence of seeing leaders as the experts. And so, they play their role and argue and explain.
Differences in Listening
There could be a significant change in behavior, if leaders would not talk to „plain“ employees anymore. A „plain“ employee is a person with known skills and determined tasks. We expect employees to show a dedicated behavior in the way they solve tasks and communicate issues. Deviations from these expectations are often seen as missing ability. So, what would change if the leader talks to someone with perceptible disabilities instead?
Expectations on people with disabilities are in general are much lower. We cannot put ourselves into their place. We expect not to know how they are thinking or responding. Thereby, we start to listen differently. We want to find out more about their thoughts. This happens simply for the reason, that we need something to related to.
The very same happens, when we watch the video created by the Kerry O’Brian. We listen differently. We are amazed by thoughts, which would never have come to our mind. And at a sudden, it unveils its own beauty. We start to relate the daughter and the questions start to make sense. As a consequence, we start to think differently – a wonderful experience.
This experience can be transferred into a working environment. It can be even pretty simple. We even do not need to bring disability into place. It is a fact, that the difference is not in the person we are talking to. The difference is in the way we are listening.
Every thought and every comment of a person has an expectation. To be able to find out more about it, active listening requires to suspend own expectations. The focus is solely on the expectations of the other. Instead of searching for the argumentation and reasoning, the exciting aspect lies in here.
What make an employee ask this question? Why did (s)he decide to tell about something? What does (s)he expect from her/his leaders?
Diving into these aspects and finding out more about it, makes leaders discover other perspectives. Quite often, these perspectives are pretty new and different from the own way of thinking. It can be as stunning as the experience from mindful listening to the questions recorded by Kelly O’Brian.
The Joy of Mindful Listening
For myself, I discovered that most of the time it is not the employee, who needs to change perspective. It is me who has a too narrow mindset and too tight expectations. Therefore, I enjoy every single talk with an employee. It helps me, to find out more about new perspectives.
The best moments in my career have been those, where a new perspective from a colleague helped me to overcome own „disabilities“. This is the joy of mindful listening!
Link to the article by Kelly O’Brian: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/21/opinion/how-does-life-live.html