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Voices of the Fellowship: Leading as a listener

Tags: Fellowship

Hannah Staller

Have you ever noticed there are some people in your life who always seem to say the same thing? No matter what, either the tone or content of what they say never seems to change. Maybe every time they call or you run into them, you think “Oh boy, here we go again.” I will admit I thought I had these people in my own life.

Earlier this month I took a six day transformational leadership course in which I explored how I can make leadership my natural self-expression. This may sound odd, but the course is designed to help people respond to any situation in their lives as natural leaders. Although we discussed numerous topics related to leadership during those six days, the importance of authentic listening struck me. I always thought of myself as a good listener. When someone spoke to me I would dutifully put down any distractions, make eye contact, and respond appropriately. It turns out listening authentically is more than pausing Candy Crush, staring intently, and nodding my head attentively. Through the transformational leadership course I realized I had been tricking myself, simply going through the motions of what we think makes up good listening.

I was not authentically listening to the people I had deemed “broken records.” With these people, I started every conversation with my “already always listening” turned up full blast. “Always already listening” are the judgments, opinions, and biases we already have running through our heads when we listen to others. These thoughts can be positive or negative. “He’s a complainer,” “she never gets what I am saying,” or “he’s always so nice” are judgments that follow us into our conversations and shape what we actually hear. I learned these “broken records” only sounded broken because I assumed I knew what people were going to say.

If any of this resonates with you, I encourage you to conduct an experiment. The next time you converse with a friend you think is a complainer or a teammate who does not seem to care about the task at hand, try listening for the gold in what they are saying. Listen for the brilliant, unique, and fresh ideas. Listen for the passion, care, and reward in what they say. Identify the judgments shaping how you receive what they say, put those aside, and really listen for the contributions the people in your life are capable of making. I make no promises, because authentic listening takes. However, I’ve found once you start listening differently, you will start hearing and understanding people differently. Give it a try, and see what happens.