Learn to listen differently

It takes patience and focus to hear what’s emerging around us


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We think – a lot. And at work, we are paid to do it well. But what we don’t often realize is that sometimes the toughest solutions don’t come from thinking about them more. They come from listening. 

More than ever, we are being asked to listen in to what’s emerging around us. What I mean by that is, to stay relevant and agile in business, we must tune in – early – to what is trying to emerge in our business ecosystem. This is a skillset that requires patience, silence, focus, an open and creative mindset and a trust of our intuition.

Who has time for this kind of “quiet work,” you might ask? Who doesn’t? 

The answers we seek to the most challenging of situations often don’t come from thinking about them. But about letting them come in. Sideways. 

For example, how often do we get flashes of insight when we’re out for a hike or working in the yard? It could be on a tough decision we have been working through, or the next step to take on a project. When it happens, my experience has been that it often it feels like it’s obvious and nearly effortless to make happen. It is that clear.

Once “tuned in” by listening differently, we are privy to what is trying to emerge. Our business ecosystems are informing us on a larger scale. This information can guide, for example, the direction in which we take our next initiative, or a true priority of a project, or new talent that is most needed. By sensing what is trying to emerge, we are conscious of staying relevant. We do not accept the status quo as being “the way it will be” or “should be” forever. 

If business sustainability is the tree, then how to listen differently has several branches. It is about becoming conscious of internal mindsets that drive our behaviors. It is about developing our intuition and the confidence to follow it. This is about remaining in the unknown of things and trust that the right answer emerges as to next steps. 

It is about having intense dialogues counteracted with long periods of intentional silence. It’s about developing a practice of self-discipline to begin listening.

Let’s take each listening branch separately:

• Conscious of internal mindsets: How often do we say the problem is out there, because of those people? What about that person is really about things that are difficult to face within ourselves? Become aware of how you think about things. Listen inwardly.

• Developing intuition and confidence to follow it: Some of the best leaders have a keen sense of intuition and trust it implicitly. Meditation has been shown to be a good source to calm the mind and allow the other parts of our brain to inform us and bring clarity and insights. 

Remaining in the unknown: Admittedly hard to do, coupled with the desire to resolve this tension for something known and tangible. But this tension is creative. Remaining in the unknown, we open ourselves to listening. We become privy to a more creative answer.

• Dialogue: To the extent we can seek to understand each other by listening, and with good inquiry, we can engage in dialogue. The goal is to tune into the collective intelligence of the group.

Self-discipline to notice: Too easily we live in our harried world, with work demands, kids’ needs and our own. Developing a practice to notice things around us takes discipline and patience. Meditation is also a good way to begin here.

Remember that this is a practice. We aim for these things. Again and again. We walk along these pathways. When we fall away from them, as we do, we forgive ourselves. And perhaps find along the way that we are listening differently. 

Trinnie Houghton is a partner and executive and organizational coach with Sojourn Partners, Bedford. She can be reached at trinnie@sojournpartners.com.

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