Whether we are having a meeting with our teammates at work or talking to our kids at home, the question is: What are we really listening to? We might be listening just enough to prove our point right, or to confirm what we already know. Often, we listen to agree or disagree. In most cases, we listen with a closed mind and hear everything through our own filters. These filters could be our biases, conditioning, prejudices, programming, and our long-held beliefs. We often enter a conversation from a position of “I know” and the whole conversation after that is about protecting our position and proving the other side wrong. Sometimes we form our judgments very quickly after the start of a dialog, and understanding stops the minute we start judging.
What if we enter a conversation with an open attitude, with an intention to learn something new. This does not mean we accept everything we hear. On the contrary, we need to challenge, analyze, and question assumptions with a spirit of curiosity. The aim would be to truly understand. This requires the ability to consciously let go of our conditioning and programming, and raise our awareness to the present moment with an open and curious mindset. This is not limited to only listening to verbal communication. As the studies show, over 50% of our communication is non-verbal (eye contact, facial expression, gestures, body language), and another 30% para-verbal (how we say what we say, the energy behind the words). Conscious communication requires us to be aware and present to all aspects of communication, to listen deeply and generously, in order to truly understand. When we enter a conversation with curiosity and an open mind to learn something new, the quality of the conversation goes to a new level of creativity and collaboration. This is where the magic happens, where we build on each other’s ideas and insights and bring the best out of each other. I call this kind of communication “creative collaboration”.
Let’s explore what it takes to have more creative collaborative conversations. The most important ingredient is awareness, which is a combination of self-awareness, as well as other-awareness. This includes being aware of our filters and biases, and how we unconsciously project our styles and beliefs onto others. This requires a level of self-examination and self-observation. Noticing what goes on inside our minds as we are listening to the other. It involves questioning our assumptions, and from time to time, questioning our answers. A very important distinction is the ability to separate ourselves from our opinions or beliefs. Sometimes we identify ourselves with our opinion so much that if the other person disagrees with our ideas and opinions, we take it personally and get tensed up about it, as if we are physically being attacked. Fight-or-flight response kicks in and from that point on, the conversation goes downhill, and there is no more hope for true understanding. There are a couple of effective techniques that can be used when we catch ourselves being emotionally off-balanced to help bring us back to the conversation.
Breath has been used for centuries as a tool to calm the mind and help us get into a relaxed meditative state. In specific, slow, deep belly breathing has the ability to get us out of our fight-or-flight response, clear the mind, and shift our brain waves down to alpha and theta states where we are calm and more receptive to insights and reflections. As soon as you catch yourself being tensed up and emotionally triggered, just remember to take 3-5 slow, deep belly breaths, and in no time, you are back into your natural zone.
The ability to stay in our curious zone and resisting the temptation of making quick assumptions and judgments is critical in healthy conversations. By asking honest and authentic questions we make ourselves curious and open to learning. Again, it is not about agreement or disagreement with the other person, but about being curious and open to learning something new and understanding other points of view before responding.
By raising our awareness of our filters and biases and practicing self-examination while assuming an open and curious mindset, we increase the opportunity to truly listen to each other and experience conscious communication that is the cornerstone to creative collaboration.