Shut up and listen!

women talking over coffee

What if I told you that the answer to life, the universe, and everything wasn't 52? (sorry fans of Douglas Adams - Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)

Instead, it was listening.

Would you be curious?


Of course, I would be incredibly over-simplifying and generalising but I really believe that the simple act of listening is powerful and largely misunderstood.

Listening to others.

Listening to the stories we tell ourselves.

Listening to our bodies

Listening for what is not being said.

Listening to learn.

Listening to nature.

Listening to understand.

Listening to be respond

To be accurate, some of the items in this list are listening with your ears (communication behaviours) and some are noticing with your body (sensing behaviours). However, both are asking that you receive and interpret messages.

Listening With Our Ears

Most of us are pretty average listeners - me included. We are conversational listeners who are largely listening for our opportunity to share our story or give advice. When we are time poor we are far more likely to rush to advice. Instead, Michael Bungay-Stanier, author of The Coaching Habit and The Advice Trap, encourages us to: stay curious in the conversation just one moment longer - by asking a question.

Truly listening requires that we give our full attention to the other person. It requires listening for what is not being said, for patterns or red flags that may indicate a discrepancy between the spoken word and the true meaning. But most of all, listening requires the listener to SHUT UP! This was a bit of an eye-opener for me when I did my coaching accreditation almost 10 years ago. I had no idea how much I talked and how little I listened.

Humans have two ears and one mouth so they can listen twice as much as they speak.

I work really hard at practising listening and staying curious. When I feel that a coaching session has not gone as well as I had expected, it is almost 100% because I have talked too much and not listened deeply enough. And let me be clear it is a PRACTISE - just as you would practise your tennis serve or your cake decorating skills, we all need to consciously practice listening. Soon I will be writing a short course to develop our listening skills and to avoid the trap of giving advice.

Listening with Our Whole Body 

Have you ever gotten sick and you just knew it was coming, but you ploughed on, ignoring all the signs and signals your body was giving you?

Did you ever feel a strange intuition about someone or something and this turned out to be right?

Do you ever feel the gnawing of fear, regret, shame, guilt or vulnerability in your gut, your shoulders or your chest? Did you listen to your body or did you just ignore it? Those sensory signals were screaming at you to listen up. Most of us don't listen to these valuable signals. Instead, we chose to drown those uncomfortable feelings - with food, alcohol, perfectionism, exercise or whatever our numbing/coping mechanism of choice is.

I am embarrassed to admit that I was 40+ before I realised that emotions were called feelings because you could FEEL them in your body, and far from being something to ignore they were the key to psychological and physical wellbeing. You can not work on your emotional intelligence without listening to your body. The best way to do that is to learn to meditate, the ancient art of noticing (listening) to your body and mind. Just like listening, meditation is a PRACTISE that we repeat and repeat and repeat because every time we get a little better at noticing the new. New thoughts, new areas of tension in our body, new sensations, new sights, smells, new irritations... Meditation is not about blanking things out, it is about discovering new things and then letting them sink in or fade away. The absolute key to mastering your emotions.

Listening to the Voices in Our Head

We are far tougher on ourselves than we are on others and that's because women have a constant, critical narrative in our head. These mean girl voices are trying to keep us safe, trying to prevent risks and failure. These are almost always stories of enoughness - I am not smart enough, thin enough, young enough, clever enough. Or stories of what if - what if I fail, what if I look stupid, what if people don't like me. Our mean girl voices don't want us to try, so we hesitate, hold back, worry and procrastinate. All of these get in the way of action. Then for good measure, your voices will beat you up for not taking action.

Listen to the stories your mean girls are telling you - are they true or is there a better story you can tell yourself?

I have a critical and nasty woman in my head. I call her Miranda (Miranda Priestly - Devil Wears Prada). When she gets too loud and bossy I say - sometimes out loud-

Bugger Off Miranda, stay in your lane, your advice is not helpful here, what do you know about XYZ - NOTHING!!

In my coaching, I will often question the narrative my clients have looping and ask them whether it is serving them.

Listen to your voices, notice what they say, question their advice.

Hello there! I am Jenny Cole - Coach, Consultant and Cheerleader. I work with women to create careers,  workplaces and lives that allow them to flourish.

I love nothing better than watching smart, capable but overwhelmed women step confidently into their best self and truly succeed.

I am endlessly curious with two successful businesses behind me. My blog shares what I see, what I know and random musings.

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