On Listening (Part 6)

What people misunderstand about listening is this: it is power.

In a podcast with Rich Roll, Charles Duhigg highlights this truth when he shares something he learned while writing the book, Supercommunicators.

In his study of people who possess super-communication abilities, he noticed something that supercommunicators do that non-supercommunicators do not.

He explains that if you watch a meeting and attempt to identify the most influential person in the room, you'll find something interesting.

Many people will be talking, and occasionally one individual who has been mostly quiet, listening, will interject a question that leads the group in an entirely new direction--towards the answer. Or, at times, this supercommunicator will reframe something someone else has said in a way that translates it so the group can understand.

This was a revelation for me as it relates to the term 'mansplaining'.

Perhaps we've all witnessed a meeting where a woman makes a statement and the group moves on. Within minutes, a man makes the same point using slightly different words, and the group nods their heads and it's decided.

As women, we point to gender as the factor that made the difference.

But, perhaps, it's his ability to communicate the idea in language the other men in the group understand. Gender is a factor, indeed. But, perhaps it's not solely because he's a man; perhaps it's because he *speaks* male that enables the idea to be presented in a way that is understandable to other men.

In order to wield our highest power, we need to revisit beliefs we have about domination through words.

What Duhigg's look at the literature tells us is that the listener, not the talker, is actually the most powerful person in the room.

The adept listener isn't passive as they listen. They are actively gathering context, facts, information and creating connections.

They don't emerge with an answer per se. But they advance past the group to throw back a question that allows the group to 'catch up'.

Creating its own connections and owning the solution (that the listener already spotted).

So today's assignment is twofold:

  • Get honest about your beliefs on listening: When you are deeply honest, what is your impression (and judgement) of people who show up to meetings or gatherings and listen?
  • Observe the listeners: In your interactions today, observe the people who listen most, talk less. Do you spot a few of them summarizing information for the group that creates new insights? Do you notice them asking a question at a point that steers the group in a new direction?
  • Play the listener: In a meeting or gathering, if you normally take the lead (and the airtime), let others speak first. It may feel that you are watching a vehicle careen off the road, but disagree internally and let others' voices play in the space before you enter. And, when you enter, enter with a question not a statement or directive. Give yourself five minutes after the interaction to reflect on the experience. How did it feel? What did you notice? Where did you see your power?

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