“Most people do not listen with the intent to learn and understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak.” ~ Stephen Covey.
When there is an important meeting coming up with someone, say a work colleague, we often prepare what to talk about in advance. We think about what key points we want to cover, and how/when to bring them up. While it is natural and useful to be prepared, planning can also be limiting if it blocks our capacity to be available for a co-created conversation.
A co-created conversation means both parties are active in the dialogue. Each person contributes to the agenda by bringing their thoughts, feelings and desires to the table. Often when we come prepared with an agenda we are not open to what our colleague has to share. We are focused internally on what needs to be achieved and fail to check in with where the other person is at. We take the majority of responsibility for the meeting instead of sharing it; therefore we work much harder than we need to.
Planning is a way we play safe. It saves us from traveling beyond our ideas and jurisdiction of control to welcome in the fresh, new and unexpected. It keeps our focus on what is most familiar: Our thoughts, including our knowledge and past experiences. This separates us from the other. The internal focus dilutes our listening capacity, and makes achieving the task at hand more important than the human being in front of us. Job performance and goal attainment usurp the need to connect, share and listen. We lose touch with our capacity to simply be with one another, and even beyond that, we lose sight of its relevance.
The question is not so much whether we prepare, but rather how attached we are to our plan. The tighter our grip, the less we are able to adapt to the unexpected and respond to the needs of others. Co-created conversations demand a willingness to release control, be flexible with our own agenda, and open to creating a shared landscape of discussion. Two skill sets that support this are curiosity and deep listening.
Curiosity acts as a flashlight that illuminates the inner world, the veritable starting point of authentic and productive dialogue. Engaging questions shed light on personal values, acquired knowledge and intuitive feelings. They invite an honest sharing of passions, creative insights, perspectives and concerns. People feel more empowered to share their truth and contribute their ideas, while taking personal responsibility for a portion of the agenda. By spending more time in the question than the answer, we remain open to possibilities in the discussion that we could not have foreseen.
Deep listening has us hear not only from our ears, but from our entire body. We hear from our intuition, from feeling the energy of the room, and from sensing the emotional field of the person in front of us. We hear both the words and the feelings of others, and are more attentive and responsive to the energetic flow of the conversation. By connecting to the other person and the rhythm of the conversation, we are attuned to the next question curiosity wants to ask. The question comes less from the internal world of thought, and more from the connection and information we gather from listening.
In co-created conversations we take time for the discussion to unfold and open to its possibilities. We dance in the moment and invite soulfulness in both the words and spaces between. We interplay between our own agenda, the agenda of the other and the agenda that has yet to be revealed. We make room for it all and dive deep into the bottomless ocean of connection and learning.
The next time you have an important meeting with someone, or even a coffee date, try one of the following:
- Consciously hold your plans/agenda loosely: Remember, it is not so much the plan that blocks co-creation as it is our degree of attachment to it.
- Ask questions: Ask questions that start with What or How such as, What do you want to get out of today’s meeting? What would you love to contribute? What is important to you? What challenges are you currently facing? How can I support you? What are you most passionate about? How do you feel about that? What do you want?
- Be conscious of your listening: How much are you focused on your agenda, and listening to your own thoughts, versus listening to what the other is saying? Strike a balance between placing attention on your own inner world and on the world of the person sitting across from you.
- Show up with no plan or agenda at all: Take the risk to make it up on the spot and trust you will know what to say when needed. Be aware as you get closer to the meeting how much your mind plans an agenda. Make the conscious choice to let it go and be available for whatever unfolds in the moment.
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