I have begun noticing an annoying tic in my own way of conversing with others. I hear myself say the words, “I hear that” a lot.
Recently I was called out on that by someone close to me – she said something very important while I was ‘supposedly’ listening, and I regurgitated that phrase.
“Yeah, I hear that.”
Only I clearly had not heard what was said. If I had truly been listening I would have stopped what I was doing. The fact that I didn’t was a dead giveaway that I was on automatic pilot – moving through life in that mechanistic way so familiar and comfortable to us as humans, until we observe ourselves in a mindful fashion.
Hearing is not listening. Hearing is a physical phenomenon – vibrating air and sonic energy impacts our ear’s inner machinery to produce nerve sensations that make their way to our brain. Listening is the acceptance of those sensations as important, valid, and worth our interest.
Listening is the root practice of dialogue, which in turn forms the basis for collaboration. I have had a chance to dig into dialogue and its components recently as part of my graduate work. The principles and practices of dialogue as described by Isaacs (1999) had an immediate effect upon my ability to work with my colleagues. Beginning with the principles of participating, coherence, awareness, and unfolding, I had gained a deeper understanding of what was beneath the surface of simply having good conversations. The path described by Isaacs flows through the application of the four practices of dialogue: listening, respecting, suspending, and voicing. For each practice there is a corresponding underlying principle; an understanding of that principle strengthens the work of the related practice.
I began using these practices primarily as a way to build more leadership capacity in the context of communication. I noticed a real shift in the feeling in the room when engaged in dialogue with others. While only slight at first, I can now sense a distinct difference in atmosphere depending on the degree to which dialogue is being created, nurtured, and supported. For me, observing this change has resulted in a “new normal” for what my expectations are when having productive meetings. Once you know what this feels like, the taste of a meeting where people are making competing statements instead of inquiries is sour indeed.
And still, even having been working on this myself – there is that phrase, that flip mention that indicates that there is so much work left to do.
“Yeah, I hear that.”
That must become something different, in all ways and in all conversations, to get to the deeper points at hand.
“Sorry, I heard you speaking but I didn’t grok what you meant completely – can you repeat it now that I am present fully.”