Have you heard of “Speaking Circles“?  It’s “public speaking with ease and pleasure in front of any group.”  The principles include being yourself, speaking without a script, being present with your listeners one at a time, and receiving appreciative acceptance for who you are.

I went for the speaking and learned a lot about listening.  There are lessons here for managers at all levels.

I thought I was really good at non-judgmental listening.  In the workshop, a full day based on Speaking Circles, I got a helpful reminder about how hard true listening is.  My job was to listen to each person speak, with focus and intentionality. Receiving that person without judgment or critique.  Finding something to appreciate.  And what did my mind do? It wandered around.  It judged.  It critiqued my previous turn.  It did a lot of not-listening.

We are so accustomed to reviewing, previewing, critiquing, and multitasking that listening – one of the two most important communication channels – is given little attention and discipline in our daily practices.  That day was a good reminder and practice for me.

In one of the non-speaking exercises, we had to just sit with another person in silence.  Yeah, kind of awkward.  But I immediately thought about managers and listening and silence and openness.  As I write this, I see the irony of how my idea-generating-brain was still hard at work, even when I was supposed to be focused on the other person.

It’s common to hear a manager describe how clear s/he was with an employee. They describe what they said in great detail. But when I ask how the employee responded, I often hear, “Um, hmm, well, I guess I did all the talking.”  Or, “I don’t have time to listen to excuses so I just made myself clear.”

Silence is not weakness.  It’s the space after you speak that gives the other a chance to process and respond.  If you’re giving feedback, solving problems, planning, or reviewing progress, make it a dialogue, not a monologue.  That takes speaking and listening by both parties, not just you-speak-they-listen.  It takes openness on your part to really listen and find something to appreciate versus looking for something to critique.

You’re good at speaking.  Are you willing to be just as good at listening and silence?