When I sold my business in March 1997, I was persuaded by my aromatherapist and pal, Jane, that we should go to Skyros. So off we toddled in July. Have you ever been? Blimey what a schlep! You fly to Athens and stay overnight in a pretty basic hotel, then there’s an endless coach trip across the Greek mainland and finally a ferry to the island. It’s this grisly travel which makes the Greek islands so special when you get there because most people haven’t got the time or the true grit to undertake such a journey, especially when tired and in need of a holiday. I don’t think I would any more. However, Skyros was well worth it way back then.
It’s quite a testing personal development holiday in many ways; I’ll leave you to discover that for yourself. About 60 mainly single people sleeping in huts up the hillside. Fortunately Jane and I could share. Mostly people were sharing with folks they’d never met. And a torch-lit walk to the showers/loos, a bit like camping. Goat bells and cockerel crows to keep you awake all night or up early and just as well, as you’ll be off to dawn Tai Chi. It all took a while to settle in to routine. And Skyros likes a routine and a democratic process. You all muck in with meal preparation, running the fortnight if you want to participate in Demos, but the lovely thing we started on the first night was Listening.
We were given the opportunity to meet daily in pairs, simply to listen to one another. Some bright spark had – aeons ago – worked out that a lot of strangers staying together in these circumstances might be stressful on all sorts of different levels, so we were encouraged to pair up and just listen to each other. Not to do anything other than that. Not to comment. Not to agree or disagree. Not to go “oh, I KNOW what you mean!” and steal the attention back to yourself. Just to listen. And for the other person to be really and truly heard, even at a soul level. The pairing happened that first evening and I was immediately approached by a tall young man I had noticed on the ferry. And our daily listening pairing worked very well indeed. What was said in the pair, stayed in the pair.
It’s the quality of care that you bring to the listening that’s important. And Skyros encouraged no judgement as I’ve already said. So your job is to focus, to listen hard, to hear what’s being said in the words, in the gap, in the breathing. And I loved it.
And it’s exactly the same in coaching. When I get an email from a prospective client and sometimes these can be quite long, there are some people where I know I am immediately going to have to set up a call, just so that I can listen to them tell their story in their own words. You’d be amazed what you can hear in their voice and in their words and in what they don’t say. And when you clarify with a question or two, and acknowledge what you heard, major shifts can happen. Also, in the first part of the call, good listening achieves rapport which means that they know that in the second half of the call, they can trust me with their most treasured secrets, the ones they hold very close to their heart.
How many of us are really heard? I know that in my own family, the constant deafening cacophony means that no-one listens to anyone – ever, and perhaps it is this which nudged me into becoming a listener? When my Mother was dying, I knew that giving her a damned good listening to was the best and most loving service I could perform for her. Yes, she had practical needs too, but she lived on her own, she missed my Dad, she was (like me) a Chatterbox, and she had no outlet for it. Sadly, what she wanted to talk about was the territory of those OAPs imprisoned at home – daytime TV and the popular press – so this listening wasn’t a breeze, especially when you factor in the out-dated and non-PC beliefs of someone born between the wars. And the daughter in me wanted her to ask about me, to listen to me. But this wasn’t my time. This was time to offer up a selfless act.
And guess what happens when you do that? You discover that there’s pleasure in that duty. Why? Because it’s relaxing to single-task and to actively listen. Nothing, nothing, nothing is expected of you except to listen. You don’t have to make decisions. You just have to give your full attention to another human being with all your senses a-twitch so nuances are not lost on you, no detail missed, as there’s always the potential for the most important bits to be lost in your momentary lapse.
People communicate in so many subtle ways and often the most important things they want you to know can be dressed up in what might appear to be throwaway lines. Listen with all your heart and soul and these tricks won’t get past you. There’s also honour in that another human being trusts you with their innermost thoughts and feelings, and you can grow in appreciation and love for them, even if you don’t agree with them. Especially if you don’t agree with them. Try that one on for size!
All it requires is focus and love. But we can all do this. Give it a go, let me know how you get on and discover how relaxing it can be in your private life and how empowering in your professional life. How much can you learn about yourself and your listening partners in surrendering to the listening? Perhaps set up a listening swap? What luxury for each participant! Sometimes clients say to me “are you there?” so intense is my listening. And I say “Yes, I’m just listening to you.” It’s often that unfamiliar to clients and I learn that they need me to make uh huh noises. Sometimes they are so intriguing that I go completely silent.
Here’s a photo of me and my nameless listener on Skyros. As you can see, he took his duties beyond just listening and into the realms of keeping the sun off my back too. I wonder where he is now and who he’s listening to? I bet he hasn’t forgotten the gift we both received on Skyros. The gift of Listening.