Permission to Listen


How often do you feel you need to speak, give your opinion, offer a solution to feel of value in any exchange or meeting? In contrast, how often do you feel you are adding value by listening? It seems to me that there is way more emphasis on the speaking side of communication than there is on the listening side.

If you knew that you are adding value in your capacity to listen, to listen free from interruption and judgement, what would change for you?

Below I share my experience of having the permission to listen and it’s impact on the lives of others as well as my own.

In my experience, listening to others has enabled them to generate their best thinking. To release their creativity, build their self-confidence, restore their courage. And listening to others enables me too. It helps me open my own mind further. Develop my own knowledge and experience. Discover opportunities for collaboration.

During these unusual times, are we overlooking the impact of listening to each other? Some of us are spending more time alone, others of us are living and working in close proximity to family members, and many of us are connecting with our colleagues only virtually. Are we acknowledging the crucial contribution that high-quality listening can make in our lives right now? Are we listening with awareness and intention?

As a leader, a coach, a parent or a mentor, why should you listen more? Below I share five key impacts that great listeners have on those around them.

1.  Generating the best thinking and ideas in others

When we listen with interest, free from interruption and judgement, we create a safe space for others to think well – really well – for themselves.  We do this by asking questions that keep the speaker thinking well.

The best questions I have found are those that the speaker does not know the answer to (and nor do I!). They are simple, specific and sincere. Not a barrage of questions that feel like an interrogation. Rather a question, only when the speaker requires one, to nudge their thinking further. For example:

What more do you think or want to say?

What do you want to accomplish?

What are you assuming that stops you accomplish that?

If you knew you could, how would you?

Asking open ended questions is a skill of a great listener. It is accompanied by the respect to be silent, enabling the speaker to form their thoughts in response to your question. It can be a challenge in resisting the urge to interrupt and fill the space, and it is a challenge worth overcoming! I learned on one of my trainings that for every 30 words spoken, we have 300 whirring in our head. Holding that respectful silence is a gift to the speaker – more than you might realise.

2.  Building self-esteem and self-confidence

Listening to encourage another means staying interested in what they are saying and where they go next with their thinking. It offers far more than listening to reply, analyse or solve. Listening with interest is different from listening with curiosity.

Think about it for a moment. When we listen with interest, we are listening for the speaker to connect more with their thoughts, feelings and experiences. When we listen with curiosity, we are listening to fuel ourselves. Each approach creates subtle yet powerfully different experiences for the speaker. When we listen with interest, we observe, notice and feel their strengths, qualities and values.

When we appreciate out loud what we observe in the speaker, it serves to encourage and build self-esteem in the speaker. As we offer the appreciation, be sure to offer it in a way that is specific, sincere and succinct. It is often hard for others to receive appreciation – because sadly they are not used to it – and so we want to make it easier for them to do so.

3.  Connecting and collaborating

When we listen to understand more deeply what another wants to accomplish for themselves, we create opportunities for collaboration rather than competition. When we listen free from judgement and hierarchy, we are at ease ourselves. We have a willingness to be free from taking a position of right or wrong. We mitigate both the internal and external competition the speaker might be experiencing. We help them challenge assumptions that may be holding them back. We help them open up paths for collaboration.

A recent participant on my 30-Day Listening to Liberate Challenge revealed the impact of learning the listening skills to liberate the mind of others and her own, led to enriched relationships taking them to a deeper level with her family, friends and in the way she supported her clients to come up with their own solutions.

Another participant – on the same 30-Day Challenge – shared how they felt a real sense of community with others they had never met before. Being in a global community learning together, sharing their wins and encouraging each other generated deeper connection and sustained their own listening skills development.

4.  Creating opportunities for behavioural change

Research, undertaken by Itzchakov and Kluger has revealed that high-quality listening and asking questions to deepen self-awareness can positively shape team members’ emotions and attitudes towards change. Drawing upon Carl Rogers’ theory that listening can be an avenue for self-change, they report that when speakers experience empathetic, attentive and non-judgemental listening, they relax and share their inner feelings and thoughts, free from reprisal. In turn, this allows them to connect more deeply with their consciousness and discover new insights about themselves – even their most deep-seated beliefs and perceptions.

Another of my clients, let’s call her Sam, was given the leadership of a new global team. Her first employee engagement survey revealed low levels of engagement – a disjointed and fractured team. During our coaching conversations we focused on how Sam could develop her team members so they could perform at their best, feel valued and, in turn, add value. As an experienced practitioner in her field, Sam could see some of the shortcomings of her team. During our coaching she discovered ways to engage her team differently. Sam discovered the impact of thinking for herself. She revealed, for herself, powerful insights. She connected with her own resourcefulness. With these new findings, she began to adopt the same approach with her team members. Rather than suggesting what they could do differently to improve their performance, and in some cases change their behaviour, she began to ask them more questions. Questions that helped them think about the impact of their behaviour, what changes they would like to see, how they might manifest that change for themselves. And then she listened. Listened with encouragement and appreciation for who they were. With this coach-approach to her leadership, not only did Sam’s team improve performance, her employee engagement score rose to 100%. 

5.  Sharing insights and experiences

Giving advice can, at best, hinder breakthrough ideas. It can limit someone’s thoughts and disrupt their commitment to their own thinking. At worst it can be experienced as infantilising. However, at the request of the speaker, great listeners can offer information from their experience, observation and insight, free from attachment and in service of the speaker, to keep them thinking well for themselves.

Why should you listen? Itzchakov and Kluger’s research builds on their earlier findings that feedback – both positive and negative – can cause performance to decline by 38%. However, listening can make feedback more productive by giving employees psychological safety. Being listened to allows us to drop our barriers of defensiveness. And, as my coaching clients’ experiences show, the power of great listening extends beyond team members to other stakeholders: clients, partners and peers. It seems that listening not only improves how others feel, how they think and how they perform, it creates value for all stakeholders. By appreciating the importance of listening – crucial in our situations right now – we strengthen our ability to bring out the best in those we work with.

Thanks for listening.

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If you would like to join our next 30-Day Listening to Liberate Challenge starting 1st November, you can discover more here.

Photo on Unsplash Brett Jordan

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