Shut Up And Listen!

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Okay, I will admit that’s crude. But it was a blunt reminder to myself as I embarked on a new project a couple of weeks ago.

For a new assignment, I had been asked to devise and lead a process that would bring together a number of arts leaders for a brief visioning exercise.

It happens I had met all of the individuals involved in this project through a past job, which meant I was familiar with the situation. After reflecting for several days, I decided the best approach would be to develop two series of questions – one set to be answered during one-on-one interviews, and the other during a meeting of the group.

Keeping in mind my relationship to the people and situation, and knowing I should not inject my opinions into the conversations, I decided my role would be restricted to that of listener and reporter.

The initial phase, the one-on-one meetings, took place recently and they provided a very interesting learning experience for me.

People love to talk about their motivations, interests, passions and challenges, and there was an easy and logical flow to each conversation – or perhaps I should say monologue. My questions were covered in due course and I came away with a lot of information.

Listening to each individual for an hour, and hearing about their work and ambitions, gave me a much clearer appreciation of a past situation I thought I knew. In fact, however, I knew a situation constructed by my own perceptions and unawareness. Now, by just listening, I came to recognize and appreciate a greater depth of reason, experience and desire.

Through the interview process, I came to wonder why I never took the time to listen to my colleagues in this manner years ago. It is not that I didn’t talk with, and listen to these people in the past, but now, with a different relationship, the conversations were freer and more open.

If I could turn the clock back I don’t know if anything necessarily would have changed for the better, but I do know that I would have had a very different appreciation of the people, relationships and situations.

This taught me that we really should find the time and the means to really talk about our work – our hopes, ambitions, fears, plans, challenges and goals – in open and non-judgmental conversations. And, we need to listen to our colleagues in turn, setting aside biases and perceptions. Just listen.

We don’t have to agree with what we hear, but ultimately we will have a much greater appreciation and deeper understanding of the environment that influences our work and decisions, in turn opening doors to new possibilities, alliances and partnerships.

So, one day screw up the courage to ask a colleague about their work: their hopes, ambitions, fears, plans, challenges and goals. But remember: shut up and listen.