This story was first published under Pittabread in May 2010, and again in July 2013 under Career Resilience. To mark, Urban Confessional’s 5th Annual Free Listening day, I am updating and publishing it again. I’ve been following Urban Confessional for a couple of years now, attracted by their grass roots approach. Benjamin Mathes, the founder experienced someone listening to him, saw a need and then just start doing something about it.
So back to my story, which took place over ten years ago…….
There are times in life when perhaps it is better not to have, all the facts, not to be completely aware of all the complexities and emotional turmoil that may be involved with a piece of work.
I say this as someone who recently delivered a piece of work in a pretty challenging environment and if I had known what I know now, I may well have decided to give it a miss. Sometimes ignorance really is ‘bliss’.
Anyway, I pitch up on the day to be faced with a group of fairly disillusioned and angry Senior Managers. People, who clearly had things they wanted to get off their chest, with regard to how they had been treated in the lead up to the ‘selection’ process I had been assigned to support them through.
This was a group of senior managers, who most likely saw me, at least to start with as part of the problem certainly in terms of what was I going to be able to offer them. I must admit as I kicked off with the first PowerPoint slide, I began to wonder the same. It soon became apparent, that this was going to be an even more uncomfortable and challenging day than I had already imagined. With my initial scale of discomfort/challenge rising very quickly from seven to ten.
My initial reaction was probably one of mild panic but then I decided that wasn’t going to be of much help to me or them. My role was to deliver a workshop that would support them through the organisation’s selection process. I had something to deliver, which I had already spent some 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 in a different way. This is when I realised that I needed to hear from each member of the twenty plus group, as if I was coaching them individually.
So, I paused my PowerPoint and asked a question. I can’t recall exactly what it was, but as I had initially talked through Hudson’s model of change and transformation, it might well have been along the lines of ‘when have you felt at your best, working here?‘ Then I listened. Actively listened, so I could reflect back what I was hearing, leave enough space for them to reflect, challenge when appropriate and hold the emotion that emerged as people talked. Taking the time to listen to everyone in the room at the start, then enabled me to deliver the content in a way that met them where they were and for the group to take most of it on board. This experience taught me some very valuable lessons in managing my own emotions and keeping cool in the face of an ‘emotional storm’.
And here, I do need to stress, that the anger, cynicism and frustration expressed was not in any way directed at me personally, but it was still a very highly charged day.
The key then for me was to balance, enabling them to express feelings and concerns appropriately, gain some perspective on their situation, challenge some of the ‘major’ cynicism and get across the content of the day. 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 2019 I am still proud of this piece of work, but also remember how exhausted I was on my journey home. I was genuinely pleased and buoyed by the positive feedback I received especially regarding my conduct throughout the day.
I’m still amazed at the power and beauty of listening, but also dismayed at how often it seems to be underated as a skill and attribute. So, if I can do my little bit to change that, I am very happy to pitch in.