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17 May 2013

Do you have a moment? Actually, I mean that literally.

Posted by paulandrew. No Comments

The past few days I’ve been calling a number of vendors to organize an event. Keep in mind that these are small businesses that I’m calling, in order to bring real customers to their door, to spend real money. I’m not fooling around.

And what I’m finding is surprising me a lot. Just about everyone, from the city permit person, to the restaurant person, to the entertainment person, seems to be IN A REALLY BIG HURRY. I get this sense that they just can’t wait to get off of the phone with me.

I’m not asking for a half hour conversation about the weather.

I’m not asking for them to tell me how to put on my event.

What I’m asking is a moment of their time, when they will be fully present to me and my questions. And they will allow a moment of pause before rushing to end the conversation and hang up the phone.

I understand that times are tough. But do you really think that by rushing off of the phone with a potential customer who is highly likely to buy, that you’ll be doing your business any favors? Really?

By contrast, the people who I’ve called, who have been present, been friendly, and invested that extra *moment* on the phone, have left a good impression with me. It’s fascinating, too, how in that extra moment valuable new information gets revealed, both ways. The small but important investment in a moment of connected presence has a high return on investment, in my experience.

A friend of mine reminded me the other day that it’s about the system, and not the individuals. And so I have to remember that each of the individuals that I felt was rushing me off the phone is part of a larger system, a society, that seems to highly value rushing.

I’m really starting to hate rushing. And to really value the people who offer me the delicious gift of just a moment–maybe 1 second–of pause, of silence, of patience, to see what else needs to be said.

So this experience is a reminder to me, that I can also offer that to all around me, that it’s a way that I can shape the society of which I am a part.

15 Jun 2011

If you’re telling me, it must be important to you

Posted by paulandrew. No Comments


In the ongoing quest to “get more done,” “move faster,” and “be more productive,” the relationships we have with those around us
often suffer. Why? Because in the hurry–hurry mindset, there isn’t time to really be present for others when they are talking.

Consider two very different ways of interacting with people:

Just the facts, please. If you think that talking is only about an exchange of surface level information, then all you’re ever doing is listening for that factoid. Everything else is overhead. Talk about the weather? Waste of time. Ask about your son? I’ll do it because I’m supposed to. Compliment you on your shoes? Not sure what it has to do with the pending deadline. Look, can you get it done? Yes or no. Rush, rush, rush.

Listening as if people matter. If you genuinely value people for being people, as opposed to being holders of factoids or highly skilled robots that can do things for you, then you take an interest in who they are and what they are saying. Why? Because at some deep level you see them as people, and because of a deep belief in the power of genuine, person to person connection as not just a great way to live, but also as a great way to achieve results. I’d argue as well that on the high stakes issues, simple answers are misleading.

Consider that factoid you need right now. Are “the facts” always so simple, or do they have many nuances? Have you ever been asked a question in a brusque way by a very task focused person, who didn’t seem to give a damn about you, and answered in an overly simplistic way that left out the most valuable information? Yes, technically you answered accurately but the real gold was in the story behind the answer.

I know that I’ve left out key information before, and it leaves me wondering how many times I’ve been that task-focused person who missed out on the gold because I was in such a huge hurry, and failed to really connect with the person in front of me.

You can probably guess where I’m headed. If you really care about getting things done, invest in people! Take that extra moment to ask people how they are doing and really mean it. Get interested in what makes others human, and appreciate what they share with you. Within this context of connection, the game changing information can flow. Given the increasing complexity of the world, those who get access to this deeper level of information have a big advantage.

Look–I’m not saying that you need to spend 3 hours looking at boring photos from the Cancun vacation. But are you really so busy that you don’t have 180 seconds to connect with someone about what they did on Saturday? When I hold listening workshops, people are amazed at how spacious–and rare–three minutes of attentive listening feels. It’s worth experimenting with.

So take that extra moment–because often a moment is often all it takes–to pay extra attention. And consider that whatever the other person is saying, it must be important to them.

15 Jun 2011

Supportive Listening is the road less travelled

Posted by paulandrew. No Comments

InTrail in the Forest workshops, I’ve been fortunate enough to receive some direct push-back about the value of being a non-directive listener, in other words a listener who leaves it to the speaker to lead the conversation. The push-back sounds something like this:

“HEY, I really LIKE to ask questions and give ideas. What’s WRONG with that?”

I appreciate such questions because they get right to the heart of the knowing–doing gap that makes great listening such a rare occurrence.

My best thinking is as follows:

If what you’ve always done is ask questions and given ideas, and you’re completely satisfied with the results, and you have no interest in
discovering new ways of doing things, then please keep doing what you’re doing.

But if you’re open to new ideas, and you think there may be alternative ways to help people, give Supportive Listening a try. Offer a listener you’re undivided, accepting attention, stay firmly in the non-directive supportive role, and see what happens.

Breakthrough moments are a funny thing–you have to be open to them for them to happen. And so in workshops I do my best to make people an offer to experience something new. Many accept that offer, and to their surprise and delight, see speakers opening up and getting extremely clear and resourceful in dealing with their challenges.

But for others, the timing isn’t right. They aren’t comfortable with the idea of hanging back and just supporting. Or perhaps they aren’t comfortable with me as workshop facilitator! It’s all good. To me it makes perfect sense that in teaching a form of listening grounded in acceptance, that as a facilitator I must also accept those who don’t want to try it.


1 Jun 2011

Be interested, and stay out of the way

Posted by paulandrew. No Comments

I previously wrote about the power of being genuinely interested in what the speaker is saying. And there is an important follow-on point to this idea: staying out of the speaker’s way.

Something powerful and fantastic happens when a person receives genuine listening. Both the speaker and listener become energized by this phenomenon, and herein lies both the challenge and the opportunity.

The challenge is that for many listeners, the more interested they get in what the speaker is saying, the more they want to ask questions and weigh in. Although for the listener this can be very exciting, for the speaker it can be a drag. Just as they were getting going and developing some great thinking momentum, the listener jumps in and steals the microphone!

Now the opportunity is for the listener to work on channeling their excitement into coming back to the speaker, and being as present and open as possible. By letting their questions and ideas fade away, or at least stay in the background, the listener can continue to attend to the speaker and support their explorations.

20 May 2011

You can’t fake real listening

Posted by paulandrew. No Comments

No really, I'm listening

I am sometimes asked a curious question about listening:

“How can I make it seem like I’m interested in what the other person is saying?”

to which I can’t help but reply:

“Actually be interested.”

Here’s the thing: you can do all of the mechanics right, but if they don’t lead you to being genuinely interested in listening to the speaker, then that’s going to show. You may fool some of the people, some of the time, but in the bigger picture just doing the mechanics isn’t enough. In fact one could say that mechanics don’t really matter–what really matters most is being genuinely interested. People can tell.

Having said that, I believe that listening mechanics are useful to the extent that they help the listener be appropriately focused and connected to the speaker. It’s important to not confuse the ends and the means here: whatever the listener does should support genuine, interested, accepting listening, which in turn is to support the speaker in getting their thoughts out there, feeling accepted, and further developing their ideas.

In a way, I’m relieved by the idea that real listening, as a powerful phenomenon, can’t be faked.



2 Jan 2011

"Helpful advice" can hurt

Posted by paulandrew. No Comments

I was just reading a fascinating New York Times article about fertility, in which a lady describes her adventures in having kids. Due to medical problems, she couldn’t conceive. So her and her husband found an egg donor, and two gestational carriers in order to create two adorable babies (pictured). Although it’s not the typical way to have kids, they all got comfortable with the arrangment and were fine with it.

Sounds great, right? In many ways it is a triumph of medicine, and also a testament to the goodness of humanity, that these five people could come together in this way.

So what’s the problem? The friends, the bystanders, the hired help were full of advice. Throughout the article, Melanie shares stories of people who–with what I’m sure are the best of intentions–share strong and unwelcome opinions about pretty much everything regarding the process, and even the post-natal care.

Frankly I coudn’t help but thinking how much of a service it would be for a mother in this situation to simply receive the calm presence, acceptance, even curiosity of the people around her.

Yes, pregnancy and babies are a charged topic–which makes it all the more important for us to pay attention to our intensity, and become MORE likely to “simply listen” rather than share our “helpful advice.”

Advice requires exquisite timing and context–advice is tricky to do well. But listening? Listening is much more broadly applicable, much easier to do well. Next time you’re grabbed by the intensity to share advice, consider just listening–and accepting–instead.

18 Aug 2010

A Powerful Listening Tool You Can Make at Home

Posted by paulandrew. No Comments

When the stakes are low, it’s not that difficult to just be present and listen. Yet great listening is most impactful when the stakes are high—and that’s when “simply listening” becomes not so simple.

Thus I’ve been thinking about ways to support myself in being a good listener, particularly in situations that are emotionally “hot,” for instance listening for a friend who is in a tough relationship, or for another friend who is faced with a major career decision.

I’d like to share with you a surprisingly powerful tool I’ve created that helps me to stay present as a listener. This tool has its origins in the roots of Supportive Listening.

Ever since Eran and I started Supportive Listening in 2007, we’ve been asking ourselves, “What are the key beliefs that bring about great listening?” And one of the beliefs that we’ve surfaced again and again is this: a belief that simply being heard is extremely valuable.

So why have a tool just to remember this one simple idea, that you’ve most likely heard many, many times?
Here’s the thing: while you might understand intellectually that “being heard is powerful,” as a listener it’s very easy to forget that notion, especially in the heat of the moment when it’s needed most.

When your emotions start running, it’s so very easy to jump in, pass judgment, and tell the other person what to do. This emotional “take control” impulse, which often has negative consequences, then wins out over the intellectual belief of “being heard is valuable.”

So what can you do to support yourself in being strategic and “just listening” rather than being emotional and “taking control?”

One approach is to create a simple reminder card. I’ve created a wallet-sized card, about the size of a business card, which says “I trust that being heard is valuable.”

I keep this card by the phone, and when I’m talking to friends and family I hold it in my hands and glance at it every so often. And whenever I see the card, I have a small moment of recognition which helps me breathe, connect, and offer that powerful “being heard” experience to the person I’m listening to. It works wonders.

I invite you to give this a try. Get a small card (the back of a business card works well) and write this message on it:“I trust that being heard is valuable.” And keep the card by the phone. When a friend or family members calls, hold your card and occasionally glance at it.

See if this simple tool can help you to be more present, and more effective, as a Supportive Listener.

Best regards,


18 Aug 2010

Flavors of Directiveness

Posted by eranmagen. No Comments

We’re very good at telling other people what to do. “Why don’t you just talk to her about it?” is a personal favorite of mine, as is “don’t make such a tragedy out of it.” In fact, being directive comes to us so naturally that we do it even when it’s not really helpful – which is most of the time. There are, of course, times in which being directive is appropriate and even morally imperative.

Nevertheless, we are often directive at inappropriate times, without even realizing that we are being directive. Directiveness is sneaky, and comes in many flavors. Different people have their own favorite ways of being directive, sometimes without even realizing that they are being directive. Here are a few examples of ways we can be directive – do you recognize any of these as things that You do?

Directing Action: This is probably the most obvious, blatant form of directiveness. “I think You should quit your job” and “have You thought about telling her how You feel?” both qualify as examples of directing someone’s actions.

Directing Thinking: This is a more subtle form of directiveness, which attempts to guide someone else to focus on something they weren’t paying attention to, or to change how they evaluate something. Telling someone “let’s think about what can go wrong if you do that” is a pretty clear example of directive thinking. Another example is “do You think this has something to do with how your parents treated You when You were little?”

Directing Emotion: This is another subtle form of directiveness, which aims to change how the other person feels. “I would be really sad if that happened to me” could be a way of influencing another person to feel sad. “Well, at least nobody got hurt” is a way of trying to make someone feel better.

Non-directiveness: This happens when You provide the other person with the space, time, and support to guide their own thinking, feeling, and action.
Non-directiveness can be achieved by relating to the other person’s present experience, without adding advice and without trying to change what they are thinking about or how they are feeling.

There is nothing inherently wrong with directiveness, and nothing inherently right with non-directiveness. Each has a place and time, and each can be helpful or damaging.

However, it is important to be able to choose how directive You want to be when talking with someone You care about, so that You can control your level of directiveness, rather than being a slave to your habit.

– Eran

27 Apr 2010

Supportive Communities – Broadening the Impact of Listening

Posted by eranmagen. No Comments

Most people think of supportive listening as something that occurs between two people. Most of our training workshops are for individuals or pairs of friends, where we focus on training one person at a time. We have seen wonderful things happen as a result of this training, and we are now ready to take our training to the next level.

People are embedded within communities, and the benefits of supportive listening can extend beyond individuals and transform entire communities, when the culture of that community incorporates principles of supportive listening – respectful, connected curiosity that does not wish to own other people’s problems, but rather seeks to provide a supportive structure within which people can come up with their own solutions to their own problems.

The University of Pennsylvania is now poised to embark on a brave experiment in the power of friendship. Together with Penn’s center for Counseling and Psychological Services, we are designing an educational program that aims to teach supportive listening to the entire Penn community. Penn students will learn how to be better friends for one another, by providing healthy, sustainable support that will reduce stress throughout the community. We are pleased and honored that such a high-profile university would partner with us in developing a community-wide program, and we are excited to see where it all leads.

Do You know of any other communities that would benefit from supportive listening training? Whether it is your neighborhood, your school, your office, your place of worship, or your soccer team, we would love to help develop a training program that would help your community become better integrated and more supportive. Get in touch, and lets think of ways we can spread supportive listening to more people and more communities!

— Eran

27 Apr 2010

Choosing the Right Leadership Listening Tool

Posted by paulandrew. No Comments

As a leader, there is a time to hang back and just listen, and there is a time to give structure and guidance to the speaker. Quite simply, if you make an intentional choice about which style to bring to a given context, your employees will feel better listened to, and you’ll make the best use of everyone’s time. But if you unintentionally “just listen” or “just guide” then you’ll run into trouble.

I recently saw the pitfalls of an unintentional listening strategy when I was observing a skilled listener in a business situation. “Bill” studied Supportive Listening with us a couple of years ago and since then has made great efforts to apply the skills to leading his business. But when I observed him using Supportive Listening at the wrong time in a business interaction, I realized that I needed to be more clear about when to use—and not use—Supportive Listening.

Let me explain. Supportive Listening is designed for “third-person” listening. Let’s say that my neighbor, “Fred,” is frustrated with his boss and wants to talk to somebody about it. In that case I can be that calm and neutral third party, I can do a good job of being present for my neighbor and just listening to what he’s going through. I don’t interrupt, I don’t guide, I’m just there on the outside, as the “third person.” Sounds good so far, right?

Now here’s the twist, which I observed in the meeting last month. What if I’m Fred’s boss, and Fred’s complaint is about me? And he is going on and on, jumping rapidly from one complaint to the next, with no space for me to interact? Do I just remain silent indefinitely and keep listening (and listening, and listening), even when I can no longer keep track of the issues? This is what I observed Bill doing in the meeting last month with one of his senior managers. It didn’t go well.

In the situation where an employee is complaining to a boss, Supportive Listening is a good fit for the first couple of minutes of the conversation. It’s important for the boss to clearly hear what the employee is saying, and to confirm that he understands the points he’s making. But at some point, if the employee is flailing, there’s no airspace to check for understanding, and the boss is just not able to track all of the different issues, just listening reaches it’s limit.

If the boss just can’t follow along any more, he has a responsibility to interrupt as needed, slow the conversation down, check for understanding, and when appropriate, share opinions and decisions on an issue by issue basis. Otherwise his efforts to be a patient listener will have the opposite of the intended effect—the employee won’t get answers to his concerns, plus he’ll get a sense that he’s *not* being heard.

The key is to see how different third-person listening is from first-person listening. In third-person listening, where the problem doesn’t involve you, it’s very reasonable to let the speaker guide the direction and pace, and just focus on being present and connected. As the listener, you don’t need to come up with any answers, nor do you need to make anything happen. You’re just there.

But in first-person listening, especially as a leader, the expectations are very different. The leader needs to interact, and thus needs help provide enough structure for a successful conversation. What starts as a listening conversation often *does* need to segue into a real two-way exchange. In short, it’s a different creature than third-person listening, which can work as a mostly one-way conversation.

So my point is this—to be a skillful leader, be intentional about choosing the right communication tool for current situation.

* Listening to a friend talk about an issue with his boss? Supportive Listening.

* Listening to an employee talk to me about an issue with *me?* Start with Supportive Listening, and then segue into a more interactive, problem solving discussion. Choose the right tool for the right moment.

— Paul