Last night I was having dinner with an old friend, Francesca Firstwater. We were catching up on our lives and our work. Francesca is one of those remarkable people who has led a life of service. No drum rolls or trumpets — she just quietly shows up and discovers how she can serve. Right now she works as a child psychiatric nurse at a local hospital — when she is not tending the Buddhist stupa on mountainside near Spokane, or serving as a minister at a wedding or a memorial service. Our conversation turned to our work as listeners.
Listening to people is a key part of my work. Being fully present, listening with my whole heart and soul, noticing if there is a point at which something I’ve learned might be brought into the conversation as a question or a comment.
I remember a conversation I had last year with the person who had brought me to Queensland, Australia for a couple of weeks of work. I was able to spend time with four different groups of people working with people with disabilities. The National Disabilities Council in Queensland does fantastic work. They use a strengths based approach and they have done some wonderful recent work on Blue Skies Scenarios. More about that later. After two weeks of wonderful work I was having a final meeting with Valmae Rose, the DNS Queensland Director. Valmae starts to tell me about what she appreciated most about my work. I’m all pumped up after a number of very generative conversations and I’m looking forward to her saying things like the models you shared were just excellent or what you said about resilience was just brilliant. Valmae looks me in the eye and says, instead you’re a really good listener. My ego goes ouch, but after thinking about it for a while I’m pretty pleased. When we give people good listening, they learn what they already know. And most of us know a heck of a lot more than we think!
A couple of years ago I wrote an article about Listening. Ascent Magazine titled it Hear and Now and I think it gives a useful overview of this Language of Listening. A few years ago I came across a wonderful book Teaching with Your Mouth Shut which also speaks to the power of listening. Important territory!