The class stood almost as one and headed for the tea break. Rachel the teaching assistant had positioned herself to make sure she caught me on the way out. “Once you’ve got your drink Jon I’d like to sit down and discuss some things with you” My mind raced, was in trouble? We had been giggling a bit at the back but no one else had been cornered. I agreed to meet in 5 minutes time in a quiet place in the hotel lobby.
As I sat down she pulled out a piece of paper, it seemed to have quite a bit of writing on it. Today had obviously been the straw which broke the camel’s back. I readied myself for my telling off. “Now Jon I’d like you to listen to what I say without interruption. Please do not try and formulate a response, just listen and truly hear what I’m about to say to you, it is important that you do this.” I’m thinking it’s going to be the riot act.
She starts, I hear something about “being on a personal journey”, er ok, hang on, so maybe I’m not in that much trouble. Quick Jon, concentrate, damn she’s noticed I’m not listening properly. “Please listen Jon, as I said, there is no response needed”. She starts again and this time I really hear her. She talks about how well I’m learning the information, about how well I’m beginning to apply it with my fellow students. There’s a comment about how I seem to be managing my state and helping others be in a good place to learn. She talks a little of being “present” and then comes the last sentence. “……. you create a curious and playful space for people to feel safe and explore”. It’s like being hit in the stomach but in a good way, I’m almost breathless. Even if I wanted to speak I’m not sure I could. She hands me the piece of paper, smiles and gets up. “We’re due back in 5 minutes so take a little time to just let it sink in” and then she’s gone. As you can imagine, it has a positive effect, not least because I had to listen and “own it” rather than bat it away with a quip or a nonchalant smile.
Why has this come up today, 5 years later? Well I guess in some ways that piece of feedback has been with me ever since that day, not just on the slip of paper I have in front of me but in my heart. That final line about what I could create has sustained me so many times but it’s also reminds me of how important it was to listen that day. I don’t think I’ve ever listened better before or since and its the benchmark for how I try to listen to clients when I coach, to peers when we share ideas. So today I had a meeting with no agenda, no frame, no pre-agreed objective and I didn’t know what best to do. Luckily a conversation with @stirthesource prior to the meeting brought the feedback to mind. So I created a curious space by listening a lot. I feel that I connected with the other attendee on a level of deep understanding, we shared values and beliefs that built a real and honest rapport. All that and a cup of hot chocolate!
Unusually for my blog, there is no call to action today. I just wanted to share what one person can prompt and where that can take you, both at the time and maybe, just when you need it most.