To hear yourself think…it helps to have somebody listen!
A Listening Partnership sets the stage for a special kind of listening.
There are two roles: the Explorer, person who speaks. And there’s the Listener.
After the Explorer’s turn, the Listener becomes the Explorer. But, at any one time, one person is either the Explorer or the Listener.
A Listening Partnership is different from an ordinary conversation
Ordinary conversations are usually not focused on listening. Often, what we call a conversation is actually an argument – – you’re trying to convince each other that you’re right. Or one person is trying to be helpful, offering solutions, giving advice. In both cases, the listener is actively trying to make a point.
Of course, there are many situations in which giving advice or suggesting solutions is very appropriate, but not in a Listening Partnership. If the Listener starts to help or give advice, it takes away some of the Explorer’s precious space.
This is a very special space, a space where there is room for you, as the Explorer, to hear yourself think.
When you’re the Explorer, things slow down. The Listener is focused on listening to you. This helps you listen to what you feel in all its complexity. You go beyond the surface.
You’ll actually welcome moments when words seem to fail you, or when the words that come to mind don’t quite make sense. You listen for the “more” that is there, waiting to be sensed and expressed.
It’s a very special kind of paying attention. Like the way people pay special attention when they are at a wine tasting–holding a sip of wine in the mouth for a while, curious about all the nuances of the experience, as opposed to just saying: “It’s good” or “It’s bad”.
Like wine tasters who try to put words to their experience, you might struggle to put words to your experience. Don’t try to squeeze your brain to find the right words. Allow words to come out from the “taste” of the situation.
How does creative thinking emerge? Not by putting pressure on yourself, but by making space, allowing fresh ideas to arise. The very presence of the Listener makes this more possible.
Your Listener is there for you, patiently listening to what you say, sometimes saying it back to you so you can hear it too. The Listener does not complete your sentences for you, doesn’t urge you to go faster or to be more articulate… Your Listening Partner simply stays with you so that you can listen more intently to your own thoughts.
It’s as if the Listener were saying. “I want to listen to you. I’m interested even in the process of your meandering, not knowing what you want to say. I’m going to stay with you as you go through it.”
Checking for resonance
Each time a word or phrase comes, the Explorer stays with it, gently comparing that word or phrase to the experience. Does it feel right? Does it describe the feel of the situation as a whole?
This is not about being logical. It’s about sensing whether it feels right or not. If it doesn’t totally feel right, then you, as the Explorer, can keep on exploring.
At some point, you find a word or phrase that fits your feeling more precisely. The Listener is there with you, so you can give yourself the time and space to make sure that what you say “resonates” with what you feel.
Wow. When you find that resonance, it feels so right!
It’s like it had been hiding in plain sight. As you are able to pay attention, to see things as they are, to hear yourself think, you get this “Wow!”
The Listener simply stays with you so that you are able to listen more intently to your own thoughts. This creates the space for fresh thinking to emerge.
Welcoming awkward silences
As the Explorer and Listener patiently wait for the Explorer’s words to come, there are moments of silence. In everyday life, that could be very uncomfortable. Here, instead of rushing to find something to say, you actually see the silence as a sign that something new wants your attention.
You welcome those moments when words seem to fail you. Of course, it can feel weird or troubling. It’s like you’re in the twilight zone, instead of the bright sunlight where everything is sharply defined. Being in that twilight zone, noticing the feeling without the words, actually stimulates your mind to go deeper.
The Listener stays with you so you know it’s OK to be have lost contact with the firm ground of clear meanings. This is where you can notice the “felt sense” of what is not yet in words.
Play with it!
Just do it. Explore your thoughts, or your feelings, in a Listening Partnership. Don’t worry about doing it right. Play with it.
You take turns, so that each one of you can have the space to hear yourself think, or feel. At the beginning, just take 15 minutes each.
You will get better at it with practice.
Thanks to Serge Prengel of activepause.com for developing this with me!