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Crew Coach: Listening well not as easy as you think

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Crew Coach: by Capt. Rob Gannon

So how do you, dear readers, think we are doing with listening these days? If we just kind of think about our day today, moment-to-moment interactions with other humans, how’s the listening going? How are we doing with it, and how are those with whom we communicate doing with it? 

Our first reaction may be: I’m doing fine; other people, not so much. But is that really honest and accurate? Honest assessments are always the best for us, so let’s try to keep it real here.

Let me start by trying to be honest and real with my own experiences,  and then I’ll get to some observations about others. I work as a captain and as a personal coach. I thought I was listening OK in my captain and personal life ­– until I started training as a coach. It was in those training sessions, and then in my own research, that I realized I wasn’t really listening very well at all. 

What I learned in that training, and then practiced, was undivided, open attention, and checking on a mutually agreed clarity. Texting while attempting – or pretending – to listen to someone does not fall under undivided attention. We have got to stop and be present to really listen. 

We also have to clear out what happened five minutes, five hours or five  days ago. One of the most challenging parts of real listening is putting aside our personal histories and emotions to  just be there, receiving and clarifying. 

The agreed clarification is the other principle I learned and got better with. After we listen, if things are not crystal clear, it’s important we check in with who was speaking to make sure we both understand, and that we are on the same page as we move forward. 

This may sound so basic, but I see and hear it overlooked in communications quite often. I was able to get better because it was necessary to effectively work with people as a coach. I know I still could improve in everyday parts of my listening life, but I’m better than I used to be. I’ll take that as progress.

So let’s move on to some observations perhaps many of us have experienced regarding listening. Have you come across the person whose attempt at listening is really just waiting, kind of impatiently, for their turn to speak again? You know, they hear words but they are just waiting for the sounds to end so they can get back to their very important points and issues. They really prefer talking to listening. Aren’t they fun to talk with? Nothing like your thoughts verbalized and shared, only to be discarded instantly. Makes us feel special doesn’t it? What it does is send this signal: What your saying doesn’t matter to me, just listen to me. That’s some quality communication there.

Then there’s the emotionally jacked up listener who is so wrapped up in grievances and defenses that they will literally change words that were just spoken to them. We find ourselves saying things to them like: “That’s not what I said,” or “I don’t think you heard me correctly, let me clarify.” 

It can be tough, but emotionally charged conversations can really affect the listening. It’s really a great example of the power of emotions to completely hijack communications. I think we probably all have been there. Here we have to attempt to lower the temperature and the intensity, or set things aside till the storm settles. 

These examples illustrate how ego and emotion can negatively affect listening. It muddies up the windshield. We are not hearing, so we are not seeing. Not good. However, like most things, if we want to get better at listening,  we can. We can practice giving our undivided attention and see how we do. You may be surprised how it positively affects relationships with coworkers, as well as all kinds of other relationships. 

If we are sincerely trying, then we don’t need to be shy in asking it of others. I don’t know, call me crazy, but I think a world of better listeners sounds pretty good.

Enjoy the voyage.

Capt. Rob Gannon is a 30-year licensed captain and certified life and wellness coach (yachtcrewcoach.com). Comments are welcome below.

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