It has been a week of lunches, meetings, coffees and conversation. And as each day has passed I have wondered at the diversity of people I have been sharing time with – from an old uni friend who I haven’t seen in years, to a new that I simply started talking to for no reason; from super-talented media moguls, to a meditation group of all ages.
And all these connections have been so very different I started exploring the joy of conversation, the art of listening, the skill of talking. Many say, ‘Sally loves talking’. It’s true, I do. I get excited to share ideas, tell stories, chat about what’s happened in my day or week; and I’m known to often slightly overly enthusiastically expound my latest projects and plans. But I’ve noticed I talk with different energies, tones, pace and of course content pending whom I am speaking with. (And that isn’t governed just by whether it’s a personal or professional conversation. It’s more than that – it’s the dynamic between the two, or more, people). So since my week had been filled with such extremities when it came to these factors, I wanted to explore further. When did I speak fast, not stopping for a breath? When did I slow with integral reflection and thought to my speech? Were there moments I chatted to fill the silence? Were there others that silence felt appropriate and comfortable? And when was I a listener at my best?
Many people also say, ‘Sally is a good listener’. I take this as a great compliment. Since more than talking I love listening – and always have. It’s one of the reasons I went into TV – at its best my industry puts us in a privileged position to be able to meet and spend time with people I may never otherwise have met – and hear their stories, thoughts, feelings and journeys. I love that about working in television.
But back to my week and I wondered, when had I been a good listener – or as some say, ‘an effective listener’? There is a great deal of research that suggests although most of us, when asked, think that we listen effectively, in fact it is only a small minority that actually do. Apparently effective listening is about reflecting and probing, not deflecting or advising.
According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, a good listener will do far more than not interrupt, make appropriate facial expressions and be able to repeat the conversation content. It’s about fully comprehending, gently questioning and offering support and suggestions. Good listening is seen as a ‘cooperative conversation’ and ‘good listeners are like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.’
So after a week of opening up curiously to the topic of talking and listening, I found myself at a very special evening held by the very special Mita Shah. It’s called an Awakin Circle, and once a month the beautiful Mita holds one in my local area. She invites us into her home to sit in silence for an hour, which is followed by an inspired reading, and then a ‘circle of sharing where we listen deeply to each other and ourselves, so that we can reflect and share with an open heart from a place of fullness and trust.’
Now an hour may feel like a long time, but for me it was sheer bliss. To sit in this very safe and magical space that Mita creates, silently, surrounded by kindred spirits. And when it came to sharing in our circle, after an hour of just being, it came from a very different place. Whether speaking or listening, it was from deep within; every word mattered, every moment of silence was felt, every emotion acknowledged. The answers to my week’s reflections were right there in front of me. Good listening has no agendas, no goals, no needs or expectations. It exists within a space of safety, trust, respect and love. And when it happens you know it, you just do. It comes from a place of Truth.
So as I munched into my scrummy vegan supper (yes lovely Mita also welcomes us into her home with a meal of sharing!) my heart was happy and free. What a lovely end to a week of reflections. Thank you Mita and my inspiring Awakin friends.