The best listening I have ever done

I had to attend a series of public meetings to find out how they worked. I sat in the public gallery and wrote down what the people were saying, not verbatim, but pretty much, so my head was down, facing into my notepad as i was writing and I was just listening to what the people were saying.

Instead of sitting watching people talk, I was sitting listening to them talk. You only have the words people are saying and how they are saying them, so you pay closer attention and it is like suddenly putting on a pair of 3-d glasses. You can hear the ebb and flow of the talk, where the participants are not listening to the others but merely waiting till it’s their turn to speak.

It was brilliant, like listening to a radio play. Another world opened up that was hidden because I wasn’t looking at people, how odd. Whenever I looked up the spell was broken though, it seems that not looking but listening removed the chatter that goes on your head when you’re watching someone talk, the evaluating etc and looking at the person speaking brings YOU into it. Just listening doesn’t though, it keeps the focus on that person doing the speaking.

It turns out that listening to sounds is better than trying to watch them.

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5 Responses to The best listening I have ever done

  1. Nigel Parnell says:

    Try a similar approach with local council meetings then consider what you would have done had you not been at the meeting and wanted to find out how councillors had arrived at their decision. I wonder how the notes of the meeting would contribute to open and transparent government and demonstrating how councillors are acting in the best interests of the local community/customers?

    I recently undertook this excercise and was amuzed to find that on consulting the public account of the meeting the only reference to councillor contributions was in the abstract, if at all. For example, councillor x asked a question about dealing with adverse weather conditions.

    I then asked the clerk why the substance of the questions and answers were not recorded. The reponse was, well, we do it to cut down the length of the notes to save on costs but also to shield councillors as most of the time the questions are pretty dumb…

    I said, “you mean like the one where the councillor asked why snow volunteers had not been given a can of WD40 with their complimentary snow shovel……..or the one who asked if there should have been a smi colon rather than a commer……….”

    You may think this is a bit harsh but reviewing a range of different meetings we found that 80% of questions were simple requests for information. Information that in many cases was in the report and if not could have been answered some other way. More importantly, these were information requests that would not have contributed in any significant way to the public being more informed or understanding why the recommendation was considerd to be or not to be in the best interests of the community/customers. I’d like to say the other 20% were challenging and incisive but…..

    So, thinking purpose, what we had was a committee system tailored to the internal bureacracy rather than what’s best for local people: cover up the cracks rather than look at what causing them.


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