The most important thing is hearing what isn’t said. –Peter Drucker
Good morning Gentle Reader.
Greenleaf was clear. It is crucial for the Servant – Leader or Follower – to develop the discipline of listening and of listening first. The initial goal is to listen in order to understand. I have learned that in order to listen first in order to understand that I have to develop, or develop more fully, a second discipline.
Consider that we can develop our capacity to listen more intently and receptively – in order to understand or understand more fully – if we develop the discipline of ‘Suspension.’ Anyone who has attempted to develop a ‘discipline’ – spiritual, physical, intellectual, or emotional – knows how challenging this is.
What do we need to ‘suspend’? Here is a short list. We need to suspend our assumptions, especially our deep tacit assumptions; we need to suspend our judgements; we need to suspend our stereotypes and prejudices; and, at times, we need to suspend our knowledge (think: our knowledge about the topic being explored).
Consider that it is impossible – that’s correct, Gentle Reader, I typed ‘impossible’ – to listen in order to understand and to listen in order to clarify when my assumptions, etc. are actively censoring what the other is telling me.
What continues to puzzle me – about myself and about others – is that I/You know this to be true: Our assumptions, etc. not only hinder, they block our ability to listen in order to understand or in order to seek clarity. YET, we seem to refuse to suspend them even when we are consciously seeking to listen in order to understand and in order to clarify.
Now, here is the rub.
Consider that it is a challenge for us to identify, emerge and name our assumptions, etc. because they have become second nature to us. In addition, when I identify, emerge and name an assumption, etc. I experience, at minimum, a sense of embarrassment and at maximum, a judgement of guilt for holding such an assumption, etc. I also might well feel anxiety for my assumptions, etc. are integrated into my identity and hence my identity is threatened if I suspend them(I could make this extremely complicated – which it is – but I am limited to space and time so I won’t go down that path this morning).
There are some clues that can help us identify when our assumptions, etc. are at play. Consider these clues. When I believe that I know what you are going to say, then an assumption, etc. is at play. When I have a powerful emotional response to what you are saying, then an assumption, etc. is at play [by the by, this powerful emotional response can be an emotion that I consider to be ‘positive’ or ‘negative’]. When I become aware that I am judging or defending then an assumption, etc. is a play. By the by, I judge and/or defend ‘internally,’ in my mind or verbally in the moment.
My assumptions, etc. become more depleting when my stated goal in listening is to seek to understand and/or when it is to seek to clarify.
I have found that it helps me and the other when I share my assumption, etc. with the other (in real time). I have also found it helpful to me and the other if I offer a clarifying question – especially a question from a place of not-knowing.
I have also found that if I consciously practice these disciplines during ‘ordinary’ conversations that I am more likely to engage them during difficult or challenging conversations.
We have been given two ears and one tongue so we would listen more than speak. –Diogenes