Practical Listening

Volunteering at FII has been a rich experience for me – not because we do everything right at FII, but because the way we work together encourages listening to each other.  And when we are getting something gloriously wrong, this listening practice eventually kicks in and we get this marvelous aha! A community shift, so to speak.

Communication can be a problem at the best of times, with us all living in different time zones, traveling for long periods of time and checking in from ever more distant and shifting addresses in a multitude of countries.

Last year, for example, two members of our work team were both separately feeling overwhelmed, out of touch with each other, even ignored.

We had congregated online for a work meeting one morning and began, as usual, with a moment of quiet and a check-in.  Sometimes these check-ins are directly about the work at hand, sometimes they are personal – about family issues, or health concerns, or some preoccupation.

This time the check-ins reflected a kind of general grumpiness, a feeling of being cut off from one another, a sense of not being appreciated for all the hard work we were putting into the organization’s work.

Wow! We put the work aside to discuss what was happening.

“You never answer my emails!”

“I don’t know what you want me to do with them.  I read them all, but am not sure if you’re just telling me what is happening, or if you want me to do something.”

“When you don’t answer, I don’t know what to think.  And I feel like I don’t know how your work is going.”

“But I’m always writing reports in Google docs, and putting photos on Facebook. It’s all right there. When I’m traveling, my schedule is so hectic it is hard to find time to write more.  And you’re busy and don’t need to hear things twice.”

So we all took a great breath, a pause, a moment to listen inside to all that had been said.  And suddenly there was a shift.

One was overwhelmed with too much information; the other didn’t have enough.  And they were both role modeling for the other. The one who wanted more information was sending lots of emails describing her work.  The one who was overwhelmed by emails was keeping her messaging to a minimum.

The way forward:  Fewer emails on one side, with a clear indication in the subject line if an answer was needed.  More emails on the other, even if it was just to mention something had just been posted on Facebook.  A reminder to be specific and clear about what is needed from each other whenever that cut-off feeling (felt sense) emerges.  And it never hurts to send a “kudos” message when something good happens.

Big sighs all around.  Feeling clear. Feeling heard and appreciated, and suddenly there is more energy for the work at hand.

This is why I love volunteering at FII.  We’re not perfect, but we practice what we teach.  We listen. Together.