‘Mum you are doing that thing again, you are gazing at me!’ said my eldest daughter over lunch. And indeed I was. The kind of gazing deeply into her eyes and her face I did when she was a baby and sleeping, taking first steps, discovering something new – anything really. I did it as part of trying to understand her and what she was making ofthe world. And here I was gazing at her in the same way, twenty something years later not having seen her for a few months. Later in the same day I met up with a colleague and was telling him and he was quick to say ‘I think you do that with me too!’
And indeed I do! I realize that what I am doing is not dissimilar to that described by Helen Iles*, film maker/writer, as ‘dadirri’ the Aboriginal word for ‘deep respectful listening to self, land or one another’. An Aboriginal elder explained to Helen that ‘Listening is not just with your ears. It’s with your eyes and your heart….’ And that this kind of listening involves staying calm and waiting for the right signals.
It is the kind of listening that Henning Mankell**, artistic consultant/author, learnt about from his life in Mozambique where story-telling and deep listening go hand in hand. In his quest to understand he realizes that there is listening for information and then there is listening for knowledge, for a deeper understanding that comes from generous listening and holding the space for one another.
Years ago I heard about a CEO who looking back on his leadership journey reflected that he had always listened to give an opinion and wished he had learnt earlier on to listen for understanding. When he did learn to practice listening for understanding and for deeper knowledge his leadership impact, and that of others around him, was transformed.
Nancy Kline*** writes powerfully about creating a ‘thinking environment’ one in which people really listen to and are curious about each other. She shows how the quality of listening directly impacts on the quality of thinking. Crucially people give each other space, and time to think and they pay attention to the right signals. All of this has me think that gazing deeply, listening with our eyes and hearts as well as with our minds is key to really understanding each other, to thinking big, to leading for the whole and making an even bigger difference together.
Anni Townend, March 2016
*Helen Iles No.85, Autumn 2015 Permaculture
**Henning Mankell, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/11/opinion/sunday/in-africa-the-art-of-listening.html?_r=1
***Nancy Kline, ‘Time to Think; and ‘More Time to Think’