Anyone who knows me will tell you that I can talk and talk and talk. It is not that I just like the sound of my own voice or that I choose to say something in 30 words when 10 would suffice.
It’s more about the fact that I get too involved and excited about what I am speaking. And this is a word of caution for all coaches - usually less is more. Shhh – Just Listen!
This is a poem that I have pinned on my noticeboard in front of my desk. It’s a poem that my wife, Michelle, shared following an argument we had. She arrived home from work and was in a foul mood. I asked her what the problem was and she reeled off a long list of problems and frustrations. Rather just sitting there and listening, I stepped in with two, three or even four possible solutions to her problems.
To my surprise (and if you know her you would see why it was a BIG surprise), she stood up and screamed at me, "You never listen, do you?" And off she went for a long, long soak in the bath. I sat there bemused and thought to myself, "I didn’t deserve that – I was only trying to help."
Later that evening, I apologised and no more was said. The next evening, Michelle arrived home and gave me a note and said quite simply, "Don’t say anything – just read it." I did as I was told.
The Penny Dropped
After reading it and contemplating the message which took the form of a poem, I went over to Michelle and asked her how her day had been. And then I just listened and listened only punctuated by the occasional nod, "mmm", "no" and "what did you do then?" Twenty minutes later, she looked at me, smiled and giving me a hug said, "Thank you for listening – I feel better now".
This was when the 'penny dropped' – it was a light bulb moment for me. Sometimes, most of the time, people just need someone to listen to them; they want to be heard. They do not want someone to solve their problems, but to listen. Michelle like most people is more than able and capable of solving her own problems. Speaking about a problem can be a form of relief from the frustration and pent up anger; and it can be part of the process that enables people to gain perspective and to identify a solution.
Listening as a Manager and Coach
How often do you give people the space to sound off and to air their frustrations and problems simply by just listening? People are intelligent, resourceful and often more than capable of resolving their own problems. Therefore the next time you are tempted to step in and solve a problem for someone, stop and ask them about the problem and THEN JUST LISTEN.
You will be surprised by the outcome – I often get a thank you from Michelle now for helping her resolve a problem and all I have done is to just listen.
I work both as a business coach and as a consultant where clients commission me to solve problems. I am always very aware of the role I am undertaking because I have always found it hard to not be the consultant when I am working as a coach. The breakthrough for me came when I had the opportunity to complete a counselling qualification. I learned the true power of listening, allowing pauses and silences and really, really listening. Although I am still 'work in progress', I think my wife would say I am getting better.
Oh, I almost forgot – the poem. It is called Listen and you can read it below:
When I asked you to listen
And you began to give me advice
Then you didn’t do what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me
And you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel like I do,
Then you step on my feelings.
When you asked me to listen
And you feel like you have to do something
To solve my problem, then you let me down,
However strange that may seem
Listen. All I asked you to do was listen,
Not talk or do, just listen.
I can manage things myself.
I’m not helpless. Maybe unsure
But not helpless.
When you do something for me
That I can, and need to do myself
Then you help me be more unsure.
But when you accept that I feel like I feel
Regardless of how irrational it is,
Then I can quit trying to convince you,
And begin to work on what
Lies behind my feelings.
And then the answer is obvious
And I don’t need any advice, any more.