How To Be A Generous Listener

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” — Winston Churchill

The biggest influencing skill is the skill of listening. You cannot hope to be heard until you’ve listened. Your influence will only reach to the extent you’ve payed and attention – and have been seen to pay attention.

As a listener, most of what we think of as listening happens inside our head. Let’s set the table and invite our speaker to sit with us:

Be a Generous Listener

Generous listening is the assumption of favourable intent. It means if somebody says something that can be taken in more than one way, they meant the good way. Or they are, in their own way, trying to help you. Or maybe you misunderstood?

I told a close friend of mine once that she “had to own her own shit.” I meant that she had to take responsibility for her own emotions and actions. She thought I had said “had to eat her own shit.” A subtle but important difference. Hilarity ensued.

Be a Respectful Listener

Is it safe to tell you bad news or give unfavourable feedback? Can you handle the truth? Listening means being vulnerable sometimes. Putting yourself out there. Exposing yourself to things that are hard to hear and maybe even hurtful.

Can you be compassionate and understand that the person telling you the bad news might be feeling vulnerable too? That if they’re telling you something unfavourable that it might actually be happening?

Be a Calm Listener

Your silence is not mean you agree with what is being said. Not interrupting, however, shows respect. Not interrupting is listening.

Sometimes people take a while to get to their point. They need to feel safe before they can get to what they really want. Personally this drives me nuts, but my therapist was really good at it.

President Lyndon Johnson was especially good at this. He could actively listen for hours, and spent much time on the telephone, waiting patiently to pounce when the speaker got to what they really wanted. [On listening to Johnson’s private phone calls]

Your Actions

Can you think of a conversation you’ve had in the past that might have gone differently with using any one of these techniques? What upcoming conversation can you apply these techniques too?

2 thoughts on “How To Be A Generous Listener

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