My job is to listen. When I am working it is probably the single most important part of my job. People talk to me, and it is my job to hear them, and then to provide evidence that I hear them. This can be very freeing because people do not always want solutions or advice. Active listening, often, is enough to help people gain clarity for good decisions.
One day in June I was rushing to get out of the house to travel to Edmonton. Tripping back and forth between car and office in a mad attempt to get organized, I was pulled up short when the phone rang. Ignore? Answer? I chose to look more closely at the call display and noted positive sign of my offspring. “Hello?” “Mom? I need to talk.”
First response (internal): Not now. I have a long drive in front of me, and I am sure already that I will be late for that dinner, and I know I have forgotten something, but I haven’t quite figured out what it is…
The Second and more appropriate response required relying on my listening hygiene.
I have been testing a new theory recently. I have noticed a parallel between good sleep hygiene and what I will call listening hygiene. For me sleep hygiene is about managing or executing on a daily basis a few key things at bed time:
- external stimulation
- internal stimulation
Listening hygiene is similar. Listening Hygiene is developing and practicing routines and rituals which you can count on for self-managing internal and external stimulation, and for preparing yourself to listen.
Upon hearing my daughter’s voice, I slowly sat down in a chair and placed a free palm on my desk, carefully regulating my breathing as I did so. “What’s up?” As I focussed on my palm channeling thoughts into my desk, my voice became calm and moderated, and I began to set aside my proverbial shopping list. It is akin to counting to 10 when you are angry, exercising your brain’s cerebral cortex and allowing yourself to channel rational thoughts rather than emotional ones.
Effective listening hygiene, like sleep hygiene, requires self-awareness and practice. When you are listening effectively, it is all you are doing; it requires suspension of your agenda and total trust that the speaker is doing the best they can with what they know.
You need a routine and a ritual you can rely on even in times of stress. As I heard my daughter say that she does not plan to return to school in September, it was only practice and awareness that saved me from jumping to judgement and unwarranted conclusions. Good listening hygiene will work for you when you most need it, and your relationships will benefit.