I had to learn to become a better listener. Before I did that, I was a really excellent fixer. And then a sub-par fixer. And then an arrogant know-it-all. And then a dysfunctional, overcompensating helper.
It took me a while to see this in myself and it was only when I was doing the work of teaching others to be better listeners in my work as a coach and consultant that the truth really hit me right between the eyes.
When I was demonstrating effective and ineffective listening skills/tools for my clients, individuals and crowds alike, I was struck with now many of the "poor" listening skills I had been using in my own life. I got to work practicing more of the "good" skills and now I can't stop noticing this little thing called listening all around me.
Have you noticed that most people really don't know how to listen? It's really incredible, actually.
I have many theories as to why and I'm no psychologist so I won't go outside my scope of practice. My job as a coach is to notice the what and the now what? As in, what are you doing and now what do you want to do about it or instead?
But people can't even get clear on what and now what until they can be heard. And it's damn hard to find a good listener to help you sort that out. At least, that's my experience, especially since I became a coach and then again when I transitioned. Most people are either too terrified or more curious to get their own trans* fix and questions answered than actually listen to what I'm experiencing to be supportive. And when people find out I'm a coach, they sort of assume I'll be their coach for free, and they talk and talk.
I don't take it personally because I listen, carefully, to how people are with each other, too. It's pretty amazing how little people listen to each other. They talk a lot and barely listen--to themselves or others. I read somewhere that most conversation is two people competing to be heard. I agree, 100%.
For these reasons, and others, it's been very important for me to draw clear boundaries for myself which I've had to learn from using good listening skills, the very skills I teach in the work I do. I mean, why else do you think I got into this work if not because I needed it for myself first and foremost?! Any coach who tells you otherwise is a fraud, in my humble opinion. None of us are better or have it together more perfectly than the people we support. Many of us barely know what the hell we are doing sometimes-that goes for most people, in general. But there's a difference between knowing what and how to do and actually doing it perfectly. My favorite clients come to me to find out what to do and then practice doing it imperfectly, just like me. And do I tell them what to do? Nope. I try to listen as much as possible.
I know what and how to practice wellness and balance via self-improvement.
I know a lot about identity development and change theory and health food stores and nature and movie trivia.
I know a lot about a lot of very important things and some very unimportant (but interesting) things. But mostly I practice being a good listener. The more I encounter poor listeners in my own life, the more I feel called to nurture it within myself. And create resources for people who feel called to nurture a little thing called listening in their own lives.
I do this because I don't think people don't need advice, even when they seem to want it. What they need is good listeners. They need people who can hold space as they sort things out for themselves. They need people who can be gentle enough with what's tender and true. They need people who stop long enough to listen to themselves and can create that same experience for another human being.
A little thing called listening, when done right, goes a long way to actually being helpful when someone needs it the most.