"I don't need you to fix me. I just need you to listen to me."In 1982, I designed a communications skills program for Chattanooga State, which included active listening. To do active listening means that you, the listener, should be able to say to the speaker in your own words (by re-stating or paraphrasing) what the speaker said — and do it to that person's satisfaction. This does not mean that you agree with the person, but rather that you understand what he or she is saying. It's surprising how little we listen to each other.
Forgive Me, a 2007 novel by Amanda Eyre Ward, is set in Cape Town, South Africa, during the time of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee meetings. Reading that book was the first time I had really understood what took place in those meetings. Meg Wheatley included these meetings in our book, on page 93:
"During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission meetings in South Africa, many of those who testified to the atrocities they had endured under apartheid would speak of being healed by their own testimony. They knew that many people were listening to their story."
|Panorama from the top of Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa (click to enlarge)|
One young man who had been blinded when a policeman shot him in the face at close range said: "I feel what ... has brought my eyesight back is to come here and tell the story. I feel what has been making me sick all the time is the fact that I couldn't tell my story. But now ... it feels like I've got my sight back by coming here and telling you the story."Antoinette Tuff, bookkeeper at McNair Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia (outside Atlanta), was calm and compassionate with the angry young man wanting to die and take cops and children and teachers with him. She listened, and she was able to talk him out of it, saving not only herself and the school people, but also the young man himself. The whole world experienced "good listening" in the news this week, thanks to this brave hero, who admits she was terrified.
How would you answer Wheatley's question, "When have I experienced good listening?"