dogYes, yes. I’m hearing you perfectly!

A long, long  time ago  (that would be a great opening line to a song!) I spent 6 months studying in Carysford College, Blackrock. The Junior Executive Development Programme was run by 2 much admired management consultants Paul Dooley and Frank Coyne.  During one exercise we were tasked with the following: “What is the most important thing you can do for someone at any moment in time?”  We bounced off in our groups to debate. Given that it’s over 30 years ago I can’t remember the exact details, but we did come up with some BIG ideas. Example: you could tell someone you loved them. Taking it up a notch, you could tell someone that you admired them so much that you wished to emulate their life, and so on (you get the idea).

Plenary Session: 

We trundled back into the main forum ready to reveal some high-quality deliberations. When ‘the answer’ was revealed, I was more than a little disappointed.  Paul and Frank told us that the most important thing you could do for someone at any moment in time was to listen attentively to what they are saying.  Our reaction:  Where’s the beef? Jesus, what did listening attentively even mean? We railed against this and argued that the ideas we’d come up with were far superior? Weren’t they?

Clock Forward:

Roll the click forward 30+ years. I’m again studying in the same place (the name has been changed to the Michael Smurfit Business School). This time around it’s the Psychology of Coaching which has a heavy listening component.  We are learning (realistically,  re-learning) to be fully attentive – to listen with our eyes along with our ears, being fully attentive, 100% engaged in the ‘here and now’ of each conversation, detecting subtle hints in body language that SCREAM the real message.  Not being distracted by hunger, the brutal weather or how the final episode of Amber ended on RTE.  Is it easy? No. Why? Because there is an ongoing battle against your inner demon – to stop telling the world how great you are (yes, tell the terminally self-absorbed to switch off the light on their way out). It’s exhausting. And it’s exhilarating.

Time Investment:

According to Daniel Goleman (Social Intelligence) full presence doesn’t demand that much time. “A 5 minute conversation can be a perfectly meaningful human moment…you have to set aside what you are doing, put down the memo you were reading, disengage from your laptop, abandon your day-dream, and focus on the person you are with”.  While it’s not complex, it is rare.

Listen up now! 

70 years ago, Dale Carnegie provided the recipe when he asked: ”Who is the most important person in the world” (and answered: yourself).  When you can speak to someone about ‘them’ (not you) and learn to engage with their answers (not waiting to jump in with your hero stories) – you will have cracked the code and become a brilliant conversationalist It’s taken me half a lifetime to fully ‘get’ the importance of listening. So, a belated apology to Paul Dooley and Frank Coyne for not recognising the importance of their input all those years ago.  During that time, I’ve probably missed a million hints and clues.  Life is too short to make that many mistakes yourself.  Start to listen with your eyes and you’ll open up a world of depth that exists just below the surface.


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