Recently, my wife, Linda, and I were watching a documentary film called Paul Williams Still Alive. Williams is a singer, songwriter and actor who composed six #1 singles, including three for The Carpenters and one for Barbara Streisand. Early in the documentary, the narrator was sitting down with Willams as Williams was telling a personal story about his father.

Right in the middle of Williams telling his story, the narrator interrupts and says, “I’m going to skip around a bit and do you remember being entered into talent shows?”

The look on William’s face as the narrator interrupts says it all.

Clearly miffed, Williams then says, “So we’re interrupting this meaningful conversation about my dad taking me to this ballgame to talk about talent shows? I want you to put this in the film because this conversation we’re having right now is more important than the story of the talent shows.”

The narrator was a terrible listener and his poor skills failed to capture the fascinating story of a guy who wrote some of the most iconic songs of the 1970s while also becoming a parody of himself along the way. His interruptions, jumping around and failure to let Williams “go deep” marred what could have been an amazing documentary.

If only the narrator had been a generous listener…

Be Present
Polite listening is about being quiet and not interrupting the person who is speaking. It’s about listening intently to what the other person is saying and being genuinely interested in it. But that’s only scratching the surface of listening.

By contrast, generous listening is a whole mind-body experience. It’s about creating an inner and outer space where you can be present, open and available to bringing forth an exchange of words, stories and feelings that were there but not previously connected or expressed.

The inner space is about who you bring to the conversation. Is it angry you? Frustrated you? Greedy you? Generous you? Tired, happy or professional you? Some combination of you?

“Who” you bring to the conversation is the cumulative effect of your upbringing, experiences, beliefs, prejudices and input sources that shape who you are, what you believe and how you conduct yourself.

If you want to have meaningful conversations with your clients that go beyond the usual fact-finding, start with being “present” for the conversation. Start by understanding “who” you are bringing to the conversation and try to limit the interference your “who” might have on the conversation.

For example, as I prepare for a coaching call, I make a clean break from what I was doing to get my mind and body centered on the upcoming call. I typically take some physical action by getting up, moving around, and sometimes I’ll do some quick exercise like push-ups. And then I simply sit, breathe and envision the next call. I try to let any of the baggage I might be carrying just flow out of me so I can be open and receptive to the next conversation.

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