Getting to the heart of the matter
Updated: Jan 21, 2021
Clean questions can transform the way that you listen. One participant from a recent Listening Space course, Mark, describes how he found himself switching to a very different kind of listening as he used these questions in a conversation with his colleague, Anna. She was telling him about how she was struggling to make a decision about a promotion she had been approached to apply for.
Rather than going into his usual ‘fix-it’ mode, Mark decided to just sit back and listen as Anna talked. She went on to say that whilst she was very tempted by the new job, she was concerned that the extra commitment would mean less time with her family.
‘How are you feeling about this?’ Mark asked.
Her response: ‘Sad.'
He asked a Clean question, “What kind of sad?”
Mark noticed the focus of Anna’s attention go inwards. There was a shift from being an everyday kind of conversation to one in which she could really connect with her thoughts and feelings. Anna described feeling torn between the opportunities that this job might bring and the desire to invest in her young children while she still had the chance.
“While I was filling in my application form,” she said, “I had to tell my daughter, ‘I’m sorry but I’m busy, please don’t disturb me.’ If it’s like this before I’ve even got the job what would it be like after?”
“Is there anything else about sad?” Another Clean question.
Anna continued to consider what sad meant for her.
As their conversation drew to a close, Mark asked, “So what are you going to do?”
The answer had become clear – she was going to withdraw her application. Anna thanked him for listening and they went on their way. With just two Clean questions she’d been given the opportunity to connect with what felt right to her in the decision she had to make.
Mark explained afterwards:
“To be honest, it felt much easier to let go of being a ‘fixer’ than I thought it might be. I didn’t need to make things better for her. I could even let her decide if she needed to close the door for more privacy.
She became a bit teary at one point, which was unusual for her because she doesn’t generally show her emotions. But that felt OK because I could just accept what she said in a matter-of-fact kind of way. There was no sense of shame or awkwardness about what she had to say. Actually, it was awesome.”
Mark's story was a lovely example of what can happen when you use a simple set of questions to invite someone to do their own thinking about their situation.