The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

On listening

Much has been said about active listening and about the need to refrain from preparing an answer while listening.

Listening is there to hear what the other is saying, notice that there might be something between the lines, and also realize when what is being said is not easily understood. It is about understanding what is being shared, but it is not there to interpret what is missing. However, it is about understanding that something is missing, and noticing when one is trying to fill the gaps of whatever seems to be missing.

This is intense work. And it is challenging work.

For each participant in a conversation, there will be something at stake. It already starts with the ambition to be a good listener and can go as far as the very thing the individuals want to obtain from others. And there is no difference here between obtain or give, as there is reciprocity. Someone who wants to give something to the other wants it to be received.

Listening creates ambivalence. One of the challenges I experience in my work is to settle with whatever I’m able to become aware of through listening. I’ll be asking myself what I’m missing or what I can do to be a better listener than I feel to be in the moment. I can overcomplicate things by trying too hard and also miss things by struggling with trying too hard.

In his article Fearless Listening, Erik de Haan describes this dilemma as “not seeing the work involved in listening” and “overestimating the work that is involved in listening.” But that’s not the only dilemma, there is also one that links with the habit of preparing an answer while listening.

It’s a dilemma located on an axis of “being self-conscious” versus “Identifying with the other.”

In a coaching situation, it might be easier to listen and stay with the listening, that is once the relationship allows for it. But there are moments in which the desire comes up to share one’s experience and somehow look smart. And sometimes it is the reaction to identifying so strongly with the other that the fear to lose oneself in that process appears.

Communication happens simultaneously, what I’m sharing is perceived in the moment by the other and transforming his perception. It is important to note, that sharing goes beyond words. To a certain extent, it also involves emotions. When someone is fearful it is almost predictable, that someone else will seek to reassure that person. What isn’t clear here, is if it is done to preserve oneself from the other person’s anxiety or if it is because of a belief that one can take someone else’s fear away. Which means, that fear impacted the conversation.

Anxiety exists with all four ends of the dilemmas of listening. What these anxieties are about for everyone will be found in the individual translation of these dilemmas.

Which leads to an additional challenge while listening. Beyond listening to the other, there is also a need to move between listening to the other and listening to the self.


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