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The courage to listen

When we think about courage it is often in the context of overcoming adversity, bravely facing our fears and challenges. So just how much courage does it take to listen? In a sense, none at all, if the listening is superficial and selective. Its a great way to listen if you don't want to hear anything you don't like. Its practiced by many managers who just want to get the job done, and believe they know how that should be.

Winston Churchill once famously said Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. When you take the time to really listen to people, you hear a perspective that is different to your own, an alternative version of the world. Its one of the reasons why it is so much easier to give someone else advice that do the same thing for yourself. When you are on the outside looking in, you are able to take a more objective view sometimes.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen

Winston Churchill


There is a presupposition in NLP that the meaning of communication is the response you get. The idea behind it is that however you intended the message, the way someone else took it was the outcome. The purpose of the presupposition is to encourage ownership over your communication rather than blaming the recipient. Ever watched someone try to answer a question from someone who speaks a different language? Often when they aren't understood they say the same thing, just more loudly! And of course we communicate non-verbally as well as verbally. 'Did you see the way she looked at me?' 'If looks could kill'

The culture of an organisation is strongly influenced by the communication of its leadership. Both what they say and what they do. And when things aren't going well its easier to blame someone else than it is to look at our own part in the situation. What is it I can do differently? What part did I play in that outcome? And this is the time to courageously listen to what people have to say. Whatever your intentions were, however well meaning, listening to the feedback about how they were received is really important.

As leaders we have to be willing to hear that people see things differently. We need to be able to listen to their feelings about the situation. We need to be able to listen with curiosity, and not with judgement. And only when we have really listened, is it time to formulate a response. Until you have truly heard someone, any response you have is merely superficial.

You can learn to listen more effectively (we have courses to help) or maybe your first step is for you to be really listened to. All to often we have not had the pleasure and privilege of being really listened to. If that feels like you, then get yourself a coach. Someone who is trained to listen, and be curious. Even if it is just for one session to understand how it feels to be heard. Contact us if you want to take that first step

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