How a simple exercise made me a better listener

Lachy Gray, 2 min read

How a simple exercise made me a better listener

On one of our regular Monday night group sessions, we split into pairs.

Person A had 4 minutes to tell Person B about a challenging event or experience they’d had recently. Person B’s job was to simply listen for the full 4 minutes. They could not talk or interrupt Person A in any way. Easy?!

Person A quickly discovered that speaking directly to one person for 4 minutes is a long time. It felt more like a presentation than a conversation. The freedom to speak without interruption just doesn’t happen in everyday life.

And not receiving any verbal cues from the listener when speaking was a little off-putting at first. I realised how much I rely on verbal inputs from whoever I’m speaking with, to let me know they; understand, are interested, are listening. Though knowing that the person you’re speaking with is 100% focused on what you’re saying felt really good, refreshing even.

Meanwhile Person B had their own challenges.

Listening without responding verbally in any way was difficult. Many times I wanted to jump in; to share a similar experience, to introduce a similar topic or to offer advice. I’d have to catch each train of thought before it left the station. Instead I found myself responding with lots of smiles, frowns and head nods, in an attempt to communicate that I was listening and that I understood.

Person A’s 4 minutes were up. Now it was Person B’s turn. They had 2 minutes to paraphrase back to Person A what they had heard. Woah! Now we’d find out who spent the 4 minutes listening and who spent it thinking about dinner.

For Person B paraphrasing 4 minutes worth of conversation was tough. Firstly it’s a lot to remember and secondly we realised that imperceptibly we had coloured what we had heard with our own framework of experiences and memories. I guess this is how the brain works but seeing it so obviously in action was an eye opener.

For Person A, hearing a summary of what you had verbalised was quite unique. It showed that the listener had really listened and understood what had been said. Being listened to in this way was liberating.

The exercise really left its mark on me. We all received a massive return from what was a simple tweak to an everyday skill.

The 8 week course was the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR). I highly recommend it.


Lachy Gray

Lachy's our Managing Director. He's our resident rationalist and ideas man. He also reads way too many books for our liking.

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