Silence is golden when it comes to listening

Learning to listen in detail without interruption may prove to be the most important 'soft' skill you learn during your career.

Silence is golden when it comes to listening

Crash. She arrives home through a slammed door and loudly stomps through the ground floor to the back step.

Thump. Her shoulder bag hits the ground and rolls open, spilling make-up across the floor.

Even from the safe distance of the sink, her mood has power over his eyebrows as he observes her, hunched on the back step. He breathes deeply and scratches his nose with his Marigolds.

Now the gloves come off, tossed into the washing up bowl, as he moves towards his daughter. Wordless, he sits down on the step beside her.

Together they stay, shoulder to shoulder, for a very long time in silence.

Neither of them has said a thing when, after sitting together maybe five or even ten minutes, she levers herself up from the step, gathers together the scattered contents of her bag and says: "Thanks for listening, Dad."

A skill for work and life

Listening at depth is probably the most beautiful and useful ‘soft’ skill that anyone can learn in a lifetime – personal or professional. It is the mark of maturity and a good leader.

Being really listened to without interruption or advice liberates us from the powerful emotions swirling in our subconscious, capturing us and holding us ransom.

In my coaching practice, there is frequently a moment – with both men and women – where the power of their emotion has been finally taken seriously, which results in a strong inner release (often expressed externally, but not always) after which they feel free to act differently. A cloud lifts and they seem to have a greater awareness of what they are carrying, and this helps them get back on track.

In our house, we have a note on the fridge that reads: "Everyone who enters this house is taken seriously." It is not always the case, of course. The hardest people to listen to effectively (and love) are often those we love the most. Our agenda to fix, correct, make things right, gets in the way.

Nevertheless, when we do listen well it is transformational. It creates space, brings increased self-awareness, and it brings possibilities. Somehow, things are clearer.

This year, after 25 years of marriage, Judy and I booked ourselves on a ‘marriage maintenance course’ – we thought we could use an MOT. Six weeks later, we were gratified we spent this time listening in detail to each other without criticism (mostly) on topics ranging from money to sex, in-laws, parenting, kids, careers, hopes and fears.

And effective listening doesn’t actually need a third party either. US novelist Anne Lamott thinks about herself in the third person, to take better care of herself. For example: "I’m sorry, Anne Lamott can’t accept that invitation to speak; she’s finishing a book so needs to keep her schedule clear."

One useful method is to try self-listening by talking to yourself out loud. It increases self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-healing.

The trick with listening – and there is no trick – is not to solve anything but to accept everything in yourself and another – even if you don’t agree with or admire what you hear. It just is.

Accept what is… and there is so much possibility.

Adrian Reith is executive coach to media and creative industries. Visit


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