Mindful Listening for Good Community Engagement

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I’ve been involved with many community engagement processes where everything is planned to absolute perfection. We’ve got clear methodology; we’ve identified our key stakeholders and have them participating in a process; we’ve identified our risks and mitigated against them; we’re clear about what input we are wanting from our stakeholders. You get the picture – it’s perfect!

But the one thing we didn’t count on is that the decision-makers we have in the room… aren’t listening!

I’ve been aware of this ‘flaw’ in several processes and witnessing someone clearly not listening is frustrating to say the least. And if you are the person not being listened to, it can be infuriating!

I was prompted to write this blog post following a conversation with my Mum. We’d been talking about what is important in a relationship and Mum had said that for her she felt it was very important to feel listened to. The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve realised how critical for ANY relationship it is for both parties to feel heard – whether this be a personal or professional relationship.

The skill of listening takes practice and even those of us who think we listen, need to practice. Being able to genuinely listen is a life skill worth having – and it will also improve your community engagement processes tenfold.

The ABC’s Making Australia Happy series, used research from the ‘science of happiness’ on the suburban streets of Sydney. Three of Australia’s leading experts were set the challenge to take eight people from Australia’s unhappiest area and give them the tools to become happier.  The program promoted being ‘mindful’, describing it as “paying attention with openness, curiosity and flexibility”. One of the skills they taught was the art of mindful listening.

The downloadable worksheet (PDF) helps people practice being mindful and includes a tip on mindful listening. As community engagers, we could all benefit from practicing this from time to time:

“Pick at least one person each day on whom to practice mindful listening. When they speak, be curious about the words they use, their facial expressions, their body language, the tone in their voice. See if you can read their emotional state, as well as listening intently to what they say. Attend to this person as if you are witnessing an Oscar-winning performance by the world’s greatest movie star, or a revealing confession from your own personal hero: notice every little detail of their face: every flicker of expression in their eyes, eyebrows, forehead, nose, and mouth. Listen with no agenda other than to understand their world; to get a sense of what they are feeling and thinking. And the moment you realize you’ve drifted off into your thoughts, bring your attention back to the other person.”

So there’s your homework. Especially you, Dad.

1 Comment

  • Dave February 25, 2013 - 5:03 pm Reply

    So true the decision makers not listening, usually have their minds made up already.
    Some consultations actually do have a PA taking notes, but whats done with them concerns me !


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