Listening WITH or Listening FOR

Have you ever felt someone was talking to you not with you? I was trying to sell my apartment a few weeks ago so I had many meetings with real estate agents. I remember sitting in some of these appointments and after a few minutes thinking to myself – “this guy is not talking with me – he is talking to me”. The guy went on and on about how great his agency is, about their system and its benefits etc. he did not start by asking me what I need. He did not notice that I understood the point he was making after the first minute and kept boring me for ten more minutes. He was so in his own world that there was no way I was going to connect with him on any level – personal or professional. In a profession that is built on trust, his lack of attention to me truly amazed me.

The whole situation reminded me of how Edgar Schien defined one of the main problems with helping in his book Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help (I wrote about this wonderful paragraph in the past):

The trap for the helper is to move too rapidly to solutions, to provide advice or guidance on the hypothetical problem and, thereby, cut off the opportunity to learn what the real problem might be. Working the hypothetical problem does little to equilibrate the relationship.

Then I was watching the above TED talk by Julian Treasure and heard this:

Ears are made not for hearing, but for listening. Listening is an active skill. Whereas hearing is passive, listening is something that we have to work at. It’s a relationship with sound. And yet it’s a skill that none of us are taught. For example, have you ever considered that there are listening positions, places you can listen from? Here are two of them. Reductive listening is listening “for.” It reduces everything down to what’s relevant, and it discards everything that’s not relevant. Men typically listen reductively. So he’s saying, “I’ve got this problem.” He’s saying, “Here’s your solution. Thanks very much. Next.” That’s the way we talk, right guys? Expansive listening, on the other hand, is listening “with,” not listening “for.” It’s got no destination in mind. It’s just enjoying the journey. Women typically listen expansively. If you look at these two, eye contact, facing each other, possibly both talking at the same time. Men, if you get nothing else out of this talk, practice expansive listening, and you can transform your relationships.

I love the idea that “Listening is an active skill”. It reminds us that it doesn’t just happen. It requires work. It requires as to be present and attentive. It is a skill one can develop.

I think it goes both ways. In professions that are based on relationships, and management is all about relationships, I think developing the ability to talk with and listen with is crucial

So my question is – are you talking to or with someone? Are you listening with or for?