Generous Listening

In a recent Team Meeting we were playing “Stop, Start, Continue”. What should be stop doing, what should we continue doing, what should we start doing? We are half-way round the room. All good stuff, pertinent comments and a clear acknowledgement of what was needed. Up pipes the next speaker….

“This year, I want to be more generous with my listening”

Here was something heartfelt and memorable. Certainly we had talked about feedback, about deeper listening and the usual stuff about active listening.

Somewhere over the two days we had mentioned Covey, who continues to pop up in almost all workshops somewhere or ever, and the “Seek to Understand” phrase of his which has always seemed rather pious to me. But here was a completely different phrase, less that of the psychologist, consultant, trainer or facilitator, and much more that of the busy but human manager.

He went on to explain that he was always too busy and actually for a lot of time really felt he had heard it all before and knew what people were going to say before they said it. But this year instead of hurrying people on, however discretely, he would deliberately be “generous”. Not efficient, economic, sparing or pinched, but generous perhaps even “to a fault”. He would simply stop whatever he was doing, stop second guessing what would be said, stop even thinking about his journey home that evening, and listen.

It’s a lovely word and a lovely concept. Somehow is seemed fresher, less weary that “active listening”, “empathetic listening” or the myriad of other communication phases we have developed and worn down to a trite and smooth catchphrase. Generous listening really appealed and challenged me. It was less about a technique or a contrived way of behaving, it was more about an open-heart and a fulsome spirit. Generosity, of course, means giving something away. For a busy manager to give away the very thing which is already in short supply, time, is true munificence.

As a busy leader if you do nothing else then resolve to practice “Generous listening”. Who knows, it may deepen your understanding of others and may even help them to listen to you with more generosity of both spirit and time.

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