Listening Not Advising: A New Way to Support

A Guest Post by Emilie Leeks

When my husband and I first started looking into the work of Hand in Hand Parenting, we just hoped it would help us to become more like the parents we wanted to be. Little did we know the huge impact it would have on our lives outside of the home too!

The Listening Partnerships tool definitely has helped us to ride the waves of parenting, but here is an example of how it also freed up my husband's thinking when he had a big challenge to face at work.

My husband, a software engineer, works for a large IT company, and part of his job involves giving talks at conferences to other developers. A while back, he was asked to give a demo during a keynote presentation alongside someone very senior within the organisation, and this felt like a nerve-wracking but fantastic opportunity.

The senior colleague would be doing the lion's share of the talk, but my husband had a practical software demo to show and talk through. He spent a lot of time preparing, and ironing out all the little glitches that can crop up, and by the time the morning of his talk came, he was ready.

He went up on stage at the appropriate time, started his demo, and his computer just showed an error message. It's every presenter's worst nightmare! There he was, on stage, in front of hundreds of people, standing next to his very senior colleague, and he had nothing.

The colleague quickly took over and ran a copy of the demo on his own machine, so in terms of the audience, the talk was still a success.

But my husband was absolutely devastated.

It was such bad luck – he'd run that demo about 18 times that morning and the night before to make sure it was working but for some reason right in that moment, his computer decided not to play ball.

In normal circumstances he would have just restarted it and got going again with not too much thought – his audiences understand that these things happen, they live it every day after all – but because it wasn't his talk, and time was short, those two minutes he needed to get back on track just weren't available to him.

But worse was still to come. That talk wasn't the only one he was doing that day. He was scheduled to give another talk that very afternoon – and on the exact same stage. He found himself stuck with feelings of frustration, deflation and disappointment – not exactly a light-the-room-up mood with which to be heading up his next presentation!

What to do now, he thought, to get himself back on track to deliver his talk that afternoon??

Generally speaking, setting up a Listening Partnership with someone you know well isn’t the best idea. Issues that you feel close to can be hard to listen to and can trigger reactions for both parties. We don’t usually do partnerships together for this reason.

But because my husband and I are both well practised with them we often use the principles in difficult situations – and that's exactly what we did here.

He had to be quiet backstage and so he messaged me to tell me the news. I had been waiting on tenterhooks all morning to hear how it had gone, because I knew how important it was to him, so my initial reaction when I heard what had happened was ‘oh no, that's awful!'

Putting my own feelings to one side, I took a breath and kept this thought largely to myself. Instead I focussed 100 percent on how he was feeling right then.

We briefly discussed his upcoming talk, and what he wanted to do to get into the right headspace for that, and I suggested that I be his listener right there and then via message.

I messaged things like ‘I'm so sorry' and ‘Agh! That's rubbish!' as my husband poured out just how awful he was feeling about the situation.

He continued to message me for a while, and then reached a point where he was still feeling a bit low, but needed to head off to get something to eat and get ready for the afternoon.

We'd taken the edge off the feelings about the morning's talk, and he knew I had faith in his ability to deliver an amazing talk that afternoon.

For a second time that day, I waited on the edge of my seat to hear how it went! After what felt like a lifetime for me, I finally got the message – the afternoon talk had gone fantastically well, he had received great feedback, and, perhaps even more importantly, he had really enjoyed it! An amazing result!

Later, when I thought back to our ‘Listening Partnerships by messaging' session, I had a few revelations. I know that in the past I would have focussed on my own feelings of disappointment on my husband's behalf, because I had so wanted it to go well for him, which would not have supported him as well.

Although it was important to make him feel heard – to make sure he understood that I knew how awful it was for him – it wouldn't have helped him to have to take on my feelings about it as well. I knew I could deal with those later – in my own Listening Partnership if I needed to!

I'm sure I would have also tried to find solutions, or to make him ‘feel better', by saying things like ‘It's not that bad' or ‘I'm sure no one will think anything of it'.

I now understand that by doing that, I would have been communicating ‘don't feel the bad stuff.' He would have pushed the feelings down.

What he really needed was to get out enough of the emotion around the situation that he could clear his head ready for his next talk.

He knew that, and I knew that, and that's exactly what he did.

Listening Partnerships have made a world of difference to our lives as parents, but learning about the art and power of listening and being listened to has completely turned my whole life around, in ways I never could have imagined.

I am so grateful to have found them. I just can't recommend them enough.

You can use the skills you learn in Listening Partnerships to connect better with family and friends. Read 16 Questions You Can Use To Help Heal Family Tensions

Find out how listening is radically different from just catching up with other parents in How Is Listening Time More Beneficial Than Talking with Mom Friends?

New to Listening Partnerships? Watch an introduction to this healing tool by our founder, Patty Wipfler, and learn how to bring calm and confidence to your parenting. Click to watch: The One Basic Secret to Reducing Your Parenting Stress.

Emilie Leeks lives in Berkshire, UK with her husband and three children. She is a certified Hand in Hand Instructor with additional experience in speech, language and communication issues.

This post was originally published on Emilie’s blog Journeys-in-Parenting. You can also contact Emilie through her Facebook page.

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