Friday, April 15, 2005

The Power of Observation

I'm amazed at how much I can learn when I shut my mouth.

Perhaps the most amazing insight that's come from my recent book club experience is that I rarely do shut my mouth long enough to learn from others.

But two weeks ago I did take a step back, in the middle of the discussion (remember, discussion is from the same root as percussion and concussion) - and that's what it appeared to me to be: a discussion - and I realized something else about the situation.

Our book club is intended to be a dialogue where people suspend their assumptions and come together to contribute to the pool of shared meaning. But two weeks ago as it turned into what I perceived as a discussion instead of a dialogue, I started thinking about what I was observing in a new way.

I'm wondering if we as businesspeople ever have opportunities in our daily lives to be in a situation where we can practice dialogue. Where in our worklives are assumptions suspended for the good of the whole? I can't think of too many examples off the top of my head. When in our family lives does this realistically happen? How about our community organizations?

We're such a society on the go that everything is "hur-hur-hurry up" (I've been listening to a Mandy Patinkin CD and the song "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup" just came to mind - that's a line from that song). We've been forced into situations where we have to fight to be heard. If we don't ram our ideas in there, we'll be lost in the shuffle. So even when we say in our book club that this is a dialogue, this might be the only place people have been allowed to participate at that level, and all our experience is in discussion.

This past Monday I was reminded that even in love-based workplaces, we're all waiting for the other shoe to drop (see previous post). Is it any wonder we would be hesitant to trust a new group? When have we had a chance to practice?

Maybe it's time we formed groups of people who want to practice dialogue. Maybe right up front we state that intention and then hold each other to that intention. That might mean reminding those who fall back into discussion mode (that more competitive, fear-based mode of communication) as well as those who hesitate to share anything (again, a fear-based mode of communication that comes from previous experience).

Of course the second part of effective communication is listening. But when are we ever taught how to listen?

It's amazing how powerful speakers can become when listeners hold space for them to be powerful just by the way they listen. Each time I deliver a keynote speech or present material to a client, I'm only as effective as they allow me to be by their listening.

Powerful listening is powerful even in a one-on-one conversation. Try suspending all judgment and opening up a space for someone the next time you have an opportunity. I'm betting you'll be amazed at what you hear!


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