Creativity for the Rest of Us

Are You Listening?

In over a decade of listening to and visually recording group conversations I’ve learned a lot about listening. In listening for the essence of someone’s thought, I’ve had lots of practice waiting. Waiting is key to being a good listener. Much of our communication comes with window dressing – the warm up, examples and embellishment, summation, repetition. Buried in all of that is a kernel, the heart of what wants to be said. This often comes through as energy. I can feel the “zing” when we’re at the heart of the matter.

While hearing the words, a good listener is also paying attention to the feeling, the emotion that may or may not be directly expressed, visual imagery that is forming. Good listeners stay curious, open, and look at different perspectives than their own. They are willing to explore new territories of ideas beyond where they’ve been before.

“Never miss a good chance to shut up.” – Will Rogers

A good listener is also tracking what’s going on inside of them. Am I attentive to this person or am I busy scripting my response before they have finished? Am I just waiting to talk about myself? What is the story I’ve made up about the speaker? If I get activated, do I inquire to make sure I understand what they mean?

It’s unfamiliar to really listen. We’re not good at it as a culture. We want to rescue, give advice, debate or retreat – mostly to make ourselves feel comfortable. Ultimately this interferes with peoples’ discovery of their own solutions and trusting their own creativity.



Shut up and listen. For the next week, track how you listen. In your conversations do not give any advice or solutions. Notice what comes up for you and if there is any shift in the quality of your conversations.

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