When with others, the quality of our attention determines the quality of their thinking

I was reminded not so long ago just how rare it was for any of us to listen to someone without ego and for their benefit rather than our own. I posted a tweet paraphrasing Nancy Kline: When with others, the quality of our attention determines the quality of their thinking. A good friend of mine quipped in response: The quality of their thinking determines the quality of our listening.

A joke, but in it is carried the very essence of the barrier to effective listening that Nancy was drawing our attention to. To listen effectively, you need to listen with curiosity and not judgement, with a desire to understand before seeking to be understood, with an awareness of ones own bias rather than an expectation of another’s.

By listening in this way, we can help free the speaker from any defensive reflex, any fear of being judged, any concern of being cut off before relieving themselves of their burden. In this very act then, the speaker feels more able to trust the listener and more able to attend to the challenge they are describing.

The quality of these conversations can lead the speaker to reveal more information than even they may have been explicitly aware of themselves. Whether you are a coach or mentor, a manager or leader, a colleague or peer, a partner or friend, the quality of your listening can truly help bring a new clarity of understanding that ordinary conversations will miss.

Posted in Coaching, Development Coaching, Listening, Self Improvement

Tendulkar and the power of the unconscious mind

I was idly listening to the radio over the weekend and happened upon an interview with the great Sachin Tendulkar, the most prodigious talent in modern cricket. More centuries, more tests and more runs than anyone else.

He gave an insight into the role of the unconscious in achieving flow. Tendulkar was describing how he was nervous before every match as he prepared to enter the fray.

He commented he was nervous before every match and that he had tried to change, but some things you can’t change. As he progressed through his career, he got to know himself better. He realised “this is how I am, this is normal, there is no need to become overwrought.” He realised that this was how his body prepared itself for the game and he said: “I embraced it.”

Tendulkar found the more he understood himself, the more relaxed he became. His natural instincts took over: “I allowed myself to surrender to my unconscious mind… most of the time it is correct.”

He said that he still made mistakes throughout his career, from time to time the voices crowded in while he played, but he waited patiently for them to settle, so that his natural instincts could come to the fore.

In his description there is the understanding of three key aspects of what a good coach helps a client to know:

  • Learning to still the inner voices seeking to control the uncontrollable.
  • Attending to the body and the messages it is continually sending and receiving.
  • Acknowledging the power of the unconscious mind in much of what we choose to do.
Posted in Articles

Do you ever feel you’ve been down this path before?

I was enjoying an evening out with my wife last night, listening to Ruby Wax ‘waxing’ on about neuroplasticity. And very funny it was too. Not to mention insightful.

As I sat there, I was reminded, in a most entertaining way, just how we can so easily fall into the trap of repeating the same old mistakes as we stumble from one crisis to another, in the rush of things that fill our lives. Often small things that take on gargantuan proportions as they slap us in the face (actually in the Amygdala, as the neuroscientists would tell us) in rapid succession.

From birth, deep inside our brains, patterns are laid down, habits formed and responses programmed in – all just waiting to jump to our rescue. Sometimes with both feet. The cycle is there for us to observe: We experience something (that slap in the Amygdala), which gives birth to an all too familiar emotional response, spawning a thought, that gives way to action, leading to a consequence and before we know it, our life has been altered in a way we hadn’t planned and we feel as if we had no control over it.

We just tried hard to do what we do best and it just didn’t work out. Or did we miss a trick? What if we had noticed that emotion? And paused for a moment? And asked: Where did that come from? Is it congruent with what just happened? And all of a sudden, in that space, if we look hard enough, we see options. No need for a knee jerk response. No need to be at the mercy of our own habits. And in the process, we start to change those habits.

We can’t control all that happens to us or around us, but we can control our attitude, our response and our behaviour. And through these choices we can influence what happens.

I love the way that coaching can provide the space and time to help notice these patterns and habits and, in time, provide the means to take a different path.

Posted in Articles

There is nothing quite like being listened to

I recently had the good fortune to attend the Prince’s Trust’s Mentor Training programme, where I was reacquainted with the concept of listening. Now listening is something a coach or mentor does on a daily basis, it’s core to the job. I like to think I’m good at it. My clients tell me I’m good at it. But it’s good to be reminded just how powerful the feeling of being heard is.

And here I was, in a familiar experiential training routine, practicing listening, observing others listening and, in particular, being listened to. I presented my topic, something dear to my heart, something I am tussling to deal with, and after 15 minutes I felt a burden lifted. I had a small insight that gave me some options I hadn’t seen before and, perhaps more importantly, I realised I was being too hard on myself.

All this and not a single piece of advice, no solution and no direction from my ‘mentor’. But I felt listened to. I felt listened to because I knew she had understood me. Her attentive behaviour and her questions helped me unpack my problem without any sense of judgement.

At the end I felt the satisfying fatigue of having worked hard. I had been asked inquiring questions and offered some observations that made me reflect more deeply on my own thoughts, feelings and motivations.

The experience reminded me just how much we can do to help those around us when not feeling the need to prove our own worth by seeking to solve their problems for them.

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