I sit at my table, working on my computer and occasionally looking out the window. My dog moans. My partner, also working at the table, notices something she feels is worth sharing with me. I halfheartedly listen to her, all the while continuing to look at the words and images on my screen. At one point, she asks, “So, do you think that’s a good idea? Any other thoughts about how we can get that done?”
While this particular example is placed in my apartment, where we now work remotely in the age of COVID-19, it could have easily occurred at my office, or it could have been around home issues, rather than work issues. All too often, we fail to give our full attention to one another, resulting in inefficient communication regarding the questions and challenges that consume so many hours of our lives. It isn’t that we lack the skill to listen, or even the broader intention to do so. It is that we often fail to cultivate genuine empathy and curiosity, and as a result, we cannot call upon it reliably at times when it is required.
We are definitely in a time of transition. Such times are some of the most challenging, stretching our abilities to listen to one another. As such, they offer unique opportunities to cultivate that capacity… try the following exercise.
(1) Each morning (or whenever you begin your work day), take five minutes to close your door (or otherwise gain some privacy) to practice your Intention to be Curious. Breathe deeply, and with each breath center your body and ground yourself. Such mindful practice is easy to do, causes minimal disruption to others, and prepares you to listen.
(2) Before concluding the breathing, remind yourself, “I seek to be fully present to listen, to be genuinely curious about what others are sharing, and to try and understand how they are experiencing their lives without judgment.”
(3) Give yourself a simple Talisman that you can use to fulfill your Intention. This may be a physical reminder (such as a small stone you can place on your desk) or a visible reminder (such as a picture or photo) of your Intention. By touching or seeing this Talisman, you will readily return to your Intention when called upon to do so.
(4) When someone comes into your space, or when you enter someone else’s space, take a deep breath and use the Talisman to focus and listen with openness, curiosity, and empathy. Do this as frequently as possible throughout the day.
(5) At the end of the work day, before transitioning to the next phase of your day, take five minutes to journal your experience and learning: Did you listen in accordance with your Intention? What worked well? What was challenging? What did you learn that you can bring to the next day?
If you repeat this exercise each day for a week, you will find that it becomes much more natural. You will also likely notice that you appreciate certain interactions and conversations much more fully than before, and that there is greater depth to some of these discussions. All told, you may also discover that there is greater clarity regarding What Matters as a result.