Part 2 – The Art of Centred Listening
In part one we looked at how we find it difficult to listen to the whole of a situation.
That we can learn to use our whole system for listening and not just rely upon our brain or how our personality tends to listen.
With its tendencies to control, point score, ignore, feign attentiveness etc.
In this final part we study in more detail the skills and practises involved in Centred Listening but just before that …
…did you try my suggested practice from part one?
- Catching yourself when you are just listening from your personality
- Dropping trying to get to a result of some kind and replacing this with curiosity
- Listening while consciously breathing from your belly
If so, what did you notice? If no, why not go back and read part one?
The Benefits of Centred Listening
Being centred when listening allows us to utilise more of our entire operating system, which
- Reduces attack and defence
- Allows both parties to be and feel heard
- Allows both parties to stay calm rather being on anxious alert
- Increases attentiveness to wider details
- Increases engagement not withdrawal
- Develops a wider (not constricted) forum in which people’s ideas can be genuinely explored
- Prevents under engaging and over engaging
Under Engaging (Instead of being centred)
In under engaging we demonstrate gestures and postures that suggest
- We would really like to withdraw completely but
- Instead of running away (which is often culturally unacceptable) we contract or semi-close instead
- We focus on our personal discomforts and not what is being said.
Under engaging is a covert form of the flight response; detectable in non verbal and micro-movements such as closed, hunched, tense, contracted or distracted body postures/ gestures.
These are perceptible by the person who wants to be listened to and often unconscious in the awareness of those us meant to be listening. This is why listening is as much to do with how we are in our bodies as it is in our heads.
Sometimes we justify our under engaging by claiming we haven’t enough time so we pretend to listen while also on our computer, smart phone or lost in our to do list.
The gestures and postures of someone over engaging include
- Unbroken eye contact
- Leaning forward
- Continuous nodding
- Over re-assurances
- Continuous signals of agreement
These are personality habits rather than what will best serve the relationship.
They tend to stem from a hidden need to create safety by placing more value on making the speaker feel comfortable, rather than being fully open to what is being said.
As leadership trainer Wendy Palmer points out, ‘a constantly nodding listener forfeits the sense of wonder and true interest in the communication by already being in agreement with the speaker’.
One of my finest teachers (Dr Richard Moss) says, “The greatest gift you can give anyone is the quality of your attention”. To achieve the true gift of attention we must be aware of how we are in our body which means being centred.
While we all have the susceptibility to fall into personality traps we can also learn how to listen through being centred.
For instance, if I have a tendency to lean forward as I listen, this physical habit compresses and narrows the shared environment. My aim might be to help the speaker feel more important or create privacy so my habit of leaning-in might have noble intentions.
However, if we learn to listen while being centred we can still create privacy and develop a space that is an open forum between two people, rather than a contracted space.
We allow information to land in the open space between listener and speaker so it can be more fully heard. This is a useful dynamic that helps prevent taking things personally and of course, relationships improve when both parties feel more fully heard.
Here are two practises for you to begin tasting the differences between Personality Listening and Centred Listening.
They are best conducted with a partner so you can test and discuss your reactions in a risk free environment.
If you are relatively new to understanding what happens in your body when listening and speaking it’s worth repeating the exercises until you pick up the small, micro reactions.
Try both exercises and let me know what happened/what you discovered. My email contact is at the bottom of this blog.
Practise 1 – Listening from Personality
This exercise helps us to understand our typical personality reactions to listening under stress or to a subject that is difficult to hear.
- Decide which one of you will be listener and speaker first
- The speaker decides to offer a stress simulator – Saying something that is difficult to hear but not totally upsetting. E.g. “the report that you’ve written is useless. Its sloppy, poorly put together and just not good enough – You’ve wasted your time and mine”!
- The Listener focuses on the verbal stress they are receiving and notices the subtle movements or changes in their body. These might include
– Did the body move backwards or forwards slightly? (or did it freeze) – What happened to the breath? Was it held momentarily? Was the breath higher up in the chest? – Was there tension? If so where? (Fingers clenching slightly, forearms, shoulders, jaw etc) – What was the personality’s other typical reactions? (Including what the internal dialogue was saying or laughing as a protection mechanism)
- Swap roles and exchange feedback – Repeat the exercise if you didn’t notice much first time around
Practise 2 – Centred Listening
Now repeat the sequence but this time centre first.
- Inhale and lengthen your spine, exhale and relax your jaw, shoulders and chest
- Imagine that you can extend your personal space to the far corners of the room; including your partner within that range.
- Place your attention on the space in front of you and between you and your partner. This is where you can imagine your partner’s words landing outside of you. If sitting at a table imagine the words landing on the table.
- When you are ready and relaxed, use a nod or word to signal your partner to start. Your partner is to use the same criticism as before; as identical to the tone and manner of the original statement.
- See the words landing in space between you so you can consider them at a distance. This gives you space to show interest and attention to what is being said and the importance of what is being said.
- Now consider what happened in your body, tension, clenching, holding of breath, internal dialogue etc.
-How was this version of listening slightly different to my typical personality listening?
(should you need to repeat the exercise a couple of times to pick up on the slight differences that’s ok as sometimes it takes a couple of go’s)
If you would like more discussion or no obligation advice on listening, centering and improving old models such as active listening drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
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