I have just experienced the company of a wonderful group of people from all parts of the world at a Global Leadership Foundation retreat. We represented eight diverse countries and many more communities of practice and learning.
Each person bought their own wealth of experience, knowledge and wisdom into the space and as we came together to contribute and share our thinking and ideas I was reminded of the opportunity to ‘truly’ listen – a practice I am continuing to build.
As you may remember, I shared my thoughts in a blog post a year ago around ‘listening for the first time’, or listening without knowing. I have received a lot of positive feedback from others on using this technique. Several people identified that it provided new insights into and awareness of a person who was speaking to them.
I then built on the ‘listening’ theme in another post earlier this year relating to being with others in conversation without making assumptions or judging. This too created a lot of feedback with readers commenting on how much they became aware of the automatic responses and reactions they had to others before they had started speaking and what they did to change this.
With this in mind, I intentionally added a further listening practice to my repertoire at the retreat – a practice that both supported and enhanced the previous two processes: ‘listening without interrupting’.
How many of us have experienced being interrupted while we speak? How often have we been in a conversation in which we fail to let the other person completely finish what they are saying before we speak over the top of them? In truth interruption happens so often we frequently don’t notice it.
Why do we do this? Why do we interrupt? What are we aiming to achieve?
The effects of interrupting are many. It can close communication down, diminish our ability to learn, affect the relationship between us and the speaker, reduce our effectiveness at listening and prevent a thought or idea from coming to its completion. Perhaps worst of all, interrupting can create an unspoken competition around who has the best idea.
It has been argued that interrupting can build on ideas as the listener is stimulated by what the speaker has to say and will add to it. However the question to ask here is how ‘pure’ our intention is when we do it?
Do we interrupt to stimulate thinking, or do we really do it in order to be ‘recognised’ as also having good ideas and knowledge on the subject? Do we interrupt to build on a concept or to stay in control of the conversation? Is interruption a way of being included because we feel as though we are not being heard? Is it to change the course of the discussion to suit our own desires? Is it to make the conversation more interesting or relevant to our own interests?
Each of us has to answer these questions for ourselves, however they need to be asked – and answered with honesty.
If you find that your answers are more about you than the other person, then listening without interrupting is a technique to practise. It is amazing what you can learn about others when you keep your mouth closed and your body, heart and head open and in listening mode.