Earlier in the week, I posted an article via LinkedIn – about the Chinese character for listening. You can read it here. But it was finding this article that reminded me of the day I had to listen with everything I had.
There are times in life when it is perhaps better to not have all the facts, to be completely unaware of all the complexities and emotional turmoil involved with a piece of work.
I still remember this as though it happened yesterday – because almost fifteen years ago, I was asked to design and deliver a workshop on assessment days and their role in the College’s selection process. It was a piece of work that I had to facilitate within a challenging environment, and even today, if I had known what I know now, I might have decided to give it a miss.
Anyway, I pitch up on the day to face a group of highly disillusioned and angry senior managers. Emotions were running high as the College had asked them to reapply for a reduced number of roles. They also wanted to get things off their chest concerning their treatment through the initial stages of the potential redundancy process.
These managers most likely saw me as part of the problem and were cynical about what I could offer them. And as the day kicked off with my first PowerPoint slide, I began to wonder the same. I quickly realised that I was facing an uncomfortable and challenging experience – with my scale of discomfort/challenge shooting to a ten.
My first reaction was probably panic, but then I decided that wouldn’t help them or me. It was my job to deliver a workshop that would support this group through the organisation’s selection process. I had a programme to deliver, which I had already spent considerable time thinking through and preparing. I believed what I had was of value and practical use to this group, but maybe it needed to be put across differently, and this is when I decided to draw on my counselling training and experience.
I found that adopting a more counselling approach, using active listening, reflecting on what was said, allowing them space to reflect, challenging when appropriate and containing the emotion enabled me to deliver the content and the group to take most of it on board. This experience taught me valuable lessons in managing my emotions and keeping my cool in the face of an ’emotional storm’.
I should stress that the anger, cynicism, and frustration were not in any way directed at me, but it was still a very highly charged day.
The key then for me was to balance between enabling them to express feelings and concerns appropriately, gain some perspective on their situation, challenge some of the ‘major’ cynicism and get across the day’s content. It certainly wasn’t a day to try and ‘jolly them along or a day for me to become one of them. My job, as I saw it was to remain independent, outside of the situation in some ways while supporting them towards success in the selection process.
Today in 2021, as I reflect on this piece of work, I can still remember how exhausted I was at the end of the day, but genuinely pleased and buoyed by the positive feedback I received especially regarding my conduct throughout the day.
However, if I had known what I know now, I have to be honest; I’m still unsure.
And for those of you who prefer not to have to click on additional links, here is my LinkedIn post:
Did you know that the Chinese symbol for listening contains five different elements?
- Eyes to see
- Ears to listen
- Undivided attention to focus
- Heart to feel
- Mind to think
I find this beautiful and a great way to think about how we listen but don’t just take my word for it you can go directly to the article here
I also like the actions at the end – how you can make wholehearted listening a daily part of your life.
Until next time