On Listening (Part 2)

The next time you hug someone, hold the embrace for six seconds.

At the six second mark, your brain releases optimal levels of oxytocin and serotonin.

Note: you may wish to forewarn your partner in the hug that you'll be holding for six seconds. In my own research, the conventional norm for a hug is 3-4 seconds. If someone tries to break the hug at the point of 'normal' contact time and you continue to hold on, it becomes a bit awkward.

Ever since learning this fact, I've held hugs with my husband and son for six seconds. We laugh as they each try to break hug-contact at second 3 or 4.

But, I have to tell you, those extra seconds bring bliss.

Those extra seconds are symbols. Of safety. Of patience. And, they communicate "I am here for you. I am here for this moment. This is not checking the box, this is slowing down to see and to hold you."

Listening works the same way.

When we fight the urge to get sucked into the pace of bantering back and forth, and instead hold six seconds of a pause, of silence, or of waiting... something magical happens.

Safety. Patience. I am here for you. I am here for this moment. I am slowing down to see and to hold you.

Many books like Michael Bungay Stanier's The Coaching Habit and Charles Duhigg's Supercommunicators offer useful prompts if you just can't handle silence.

The two most simple:

  • "Tell me more."
  • "What else?"

And, I'd add...

  • "Mmmmm..." (just an audible that you're present)
  • [Nod your head]

Holding a silence for six seconds is going to feel wildly uncomfortable at the beginning. (Like, "itchy, my feet are on fire, I don't know where to look" uncomfortable). But, rest assured, the person speaking is unlikely to let it go that long.

My hypothesis is that you're going to love this experiment as you begin to see that 1) you CAN do this, and 2)  it accelerates sharing on the part of the other person.

Carl Rogers is widely regarded as the founder of person-centered therapy. His premise was that people are the experts in their own lives and experiences. This form of thinking is foundational to today's modern coaching practices and tenants that humans are naturally creative, resourceful and whole.

When we can leverage these principles and apply them to our journey of becoming better listeners, we see that we don't need to give advice, fix, or share our own point of view. This naturally creative, resourceful and whole being in front of me is processing what they need to process in this moment and I have the opportunity to hold this space for them.

[And I will hold it for at least six seconds].

Now, don't misunderstand.

Holding for six seconds means being present.

Six seconds of 'checked-out' or distracted will be immediately evident to the speaker and have the opposite effect of connection. It will break trust and safety immediately.

Your six seconds of present silence will carry energy of patience, engagement, anticipation, and non-judgement.

You are holding the space and receiving the information.

Then, like a dance, you'll know when the next step is yours.

Listening is a dance. It carries a music of its own.

It can be a beautiful piece to watch.

And, it can be a beautiful part to dance.


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