Most ideas are born ugly – a half-bred, half-cooked idea leaves your lips but dammit, you curse your inability to speak the idea in a clear thought through way. Those around you break for a moment to listen but get back on their conversational strand as you trail off. Yes, that was a daft thing to say, I won’t do that again. Rewind and play it another way: those around you break for a moment and give you the slightest encouragement to say more – what’s behind that idea, mmmm – there’s something in it – let’s explore it a bit more…Now that wasn't such a daft thing to say after all.
Speaking is an art, transmitting is an art – our words, tone, gesticulations, even our clothes – they are all transmitting something we want to say, and we put a lot of effort into it. But the opposite of speaking isn’t waiting to speak some more, it’s listening and it’s an art that most of us pay a lot less attention to. Which is odd – our brains can process concepts 5 times faster than we can speak them. There’s a lot that can go right and wrong with listening.
I don't think the rules of listening are complex:
1. If you’re not in the mood then say so, fix a time to ‘listen’ to someone when you are.
2. Resist the temptation to problem-solve or dive in and ‘save’ someone. Listening is very hard for energetic well-meaning problem solvers.
3. Beware over-use of ‘reflective listening’ – parroting the last thing the speaker said isn’t helpful.
4. ‘Why?’ is the listener’s best tool. ‘Why’ is this person feeling this? Treat it as a challenge – get to the bottom of it. Thinking or asking ‘why’ automatically displaces the confirmation bias most of us have – the need to hear in others what we want to be true.
5. ‘Why?’ is also a subtle tool and dangerous if mishandled. ‘Why?’ should be an encouragement to share more, to dig deeper beneath the surface, to ‘cook’ the idea more. ‘Why?’ shouldn’t be a demand for justification; ‘ok, so why is that such a great idea?’ Nothing kills innovation faster than this.
The opposite of speaking is listening, really listening, not waiting to speak. Who cares if you ‘act it’ to begin with, maybe with practice listening will become as authentic and valued as speaking.