Why listening is a superpower
Recently I had the privilege of seeing an opera with our majestic Uluru as the backdrop. To top it off we also went to a morning tea with the conductor of the orchestra and one of the opera singers who were being interviewed. So, what on earth has all of this got to do with learning how to hold a confident conversation or become a better leader you may ask? It was a question from the audience and the subsequent discussion around the power of listening that really got me thinking.
When the conductor was asked about his career journey, he explained a bit about his initial study in music before travelling to Europe where he then learned how to become a conductor. After his first performance the conductor asked his mentor for feedback, and it wasn’t what he was expecting. Thinking it was going to be all about how he moved his arms and directed the orchestra he was taken aback by the response – ‘Well, what did you hear? The answer lies in how it sounded.’ The mentor was saying that if the conductor listened to his orchestra he would know if he was communicating with them effectively or not. The conductor went on to say, “All communication is listening.”
With this in mind, I went back to the listening component, how crucial it is and how it relates to my work, in particular our Confident Conversations workshops. You see, you can’t script a difficult conversation. While our training can prepare participants with helpful words to open a conversation, keep it flowing, and wrap it up, where people often get lost is that rather than listen, they spend most of their time thinking about what they are going to say next. We are all guilty of it and when we do it we miss a valuable opportunity for insight – a key ingredient in the recipe for better communication.
In our Confident Conversations workshops we often talk about what to do when you are on the receiving end of a difficult conversation. This is where we encourage participants to get curious, seek first to understand, ask questions, and listen. These strategies will help you gather information and to get to the truth. If you can really show people you are listening it helps them to feel heard and understood and usually takes some of the heat out of the situation. You may not agree with their perspective, but it helps if you understand where they are coming from. If you listen to their view it helps you to direct the conversation to a more productive outcome.
Like the conductor who wants a seamless performance, a successful conversation can’t be achieved without active and full listening. In a confident conversation you are the conductor. Whether you are the deliverer or the receiver of challenging information the skills don’t change.
At our morning tea, the opera singer also spoke about his journey to becoming a professional performer. He explained his somewhat accidental career path claiming that he fell into it because he had a natural talent. After a while he saw that his raw talent was only going to take him so far and that he needed to do more study and a great deal of practice to develop a deeper appreciation of his art and deliver a superior performance. As facilitators we are constantly evaluating and updating our courses so they can be better. We are passionate about learning ourselves. We take on feedback from our participants and we learn by listening and watching them. We see what works and what doesn’t and adjust. Like the conductor and opera singer, listening and a passion for continuous learning helps us to deliver great performances.