In 1998 when I was training as a facilitator, a quiet Sri Lankan friend of ours said, "We have two ears and one mouth because we should listen more and talk less." That wonderful lesson has stuck to me ever since. I must confess that I have much to improve in this aspect. However, my experience as a facilitator has only served to confirm my friend´s statement.
I have asked myself numerous times, "What are the key skills of an empowering facilitator and coach?" Over the years, I have narrowed that down to a few fundamental skills. At the top of that list is the skill of listening.
Listening may be divided into two categories: Passive and active. The primary purpose of passive listening is to gather information from the speaker. In active listening, however, that is only one of the many purposes. Active listening aims to validate the speaker, promote empathy, enhance trust and connection. It also helps the facilitator to decide what would be the appropriate follow-up questions. And by helping the speaker articulate her/his thoughts, active listening stimulates deeper reflection and learning. While listening actively, a facilitator engages at two levels: Listening to what is being said, and listening to what is not being said. That allows the facilitator to get a more comprehensive understanding of the speaker´s message than simply listening for content would allow.
As facilitators know, facilitation is not about providing instant answers and ready-made solutions. It is not about dazzling the audience with the facilitator´s knowledge. An empowering facilitator encourages the people to dive deep within and find their own answers and solutions. A powerful facilitator unleashes the wisdom hidden in the hearts and minds of the participants. This requires powerful questioning skills (perhaps the subject of another post). However, once a question has been delivered, the facilitator has to listen actively if deep reflection and learning are to occur in the participants.
While coaching, it is said by some that the listening to telling ratio should be around 80:20. Coaching is one arena of facilitation. Depending on the facilitation arena, this ratio will vary. But the "golden rule" would still be the wisdom expressed by my Sri Lankan friend: Tell less and listen more.
A useful exercise to develop our listening skills is to be aware before we speak. Whenever we intend to utter a statement, we can ask ourselves, "Would it be more empowering to convert this statement to a question?" The more we make this conversion, the more we will offer the participants the opportunity to think and speak for themselves. In turn, we as facilitators will focus more on listening and, thereby, empower the participants.
So, would you like to ask yourself, "What is my listening to telling ratio?"