I don’t remember who said it, but there is great wisdom in the idea that the greatest barrier to effective communication is that we listen to respond, rather than to understand.
Psychology Today recently posted this article: The Absolutely Vital Importance of Listening. It got me thinking about a form of listening that I sometimes practice. I call it ‘What Else..?’ The rule is, that I sit with whomever is doing the talking, and the only words I say are ‘What Else..?’
After the ‘talker’ expresses a thought, I remain quiet – giving them time & space to explore whether or not the thought is complete. After 10 seconds or so, if they haven’t started talking again, I respond with “What Else..?” The question is posed kindly, and with genuine curiosity.
Talker: “So-and-so did this today, and it made me so freaking MAD. I can’t believe that s/he could do such a thing…”
Me: “What else..?”
Talker: “After that happened, another so-and-so said this…”
Me: “What else…?”
Talker: “I really felt this… so I did this… and it reminded me of this…”
Me: “What else…?”
This interplay can go on for quite some time, and I often hear things I don’t necessarily agree with. BUT – truly listening isn’t about me – it’s about being present for someone who has something they need to express. Truly listening means that I take my agenda, opinions and reactions out of the equation. It means that I hold the space for another person to explore their own experience, free from judgement, pressure and expectation. It means that I let go of any impulse to direct, control or otherwise influence another’s experience.
What is beautiful about this experience is that more often than not, the ‘talker’ will walk themselves through precisely the conversation I would have had with them – had I interjected my own thoughts into the dialogue. What is truly powerful about it, is that the ‘talker’ gets to discover for themselves, the depth of their own wisdom, insight and experience. They get to ‘own’ their own journey & learning. When their revelations occur, I affirm their experience through body language or a simple nod or ‘yes’. If it seems like there is more to come, I say again (you guessed it!) ‘What else..?’ This allows the ‘talker’ to stay present with themselves and to follow their story to it’s end (or beginning). It’s not always easy, but it’s powerful, and you would be amazed at the places people lead themselves, when given the time, space, encouragement, and opportunity…