Being a source of contribution: is it as simple as listening?

What does it take to be a source of contribution? Does it take advising?  Does it take fixing?  Does it take doing?

It occurs to me that I can be a source of contribution by simply being present and listening to the other.  What kind of listening?  Non-judgemental listening. Listening without any fixing.  Listening without any telling.  Listening without bringing myself into it. Listening that keeps the light/attention on the person who is doing the speaking. Always on the person doing the speaking.

I just got off a call.  It is not an everyday kind of call.  It was an extraordinary call.  A call that showed up as a contribution in lives. And it is left me humbled.

The first person I spoke with was in pain.  Not as much pain as she was this morning. This morning she cried over the phone.  This evening she did not cry, she shared.  I listened. I listened to her story: of illness; of disappointments; of struggle; of her shame; and the actors that bring her this suffering and heap this shame.

All the time that I was being listening stuff showed up that needed to be dealt with. Whose stuff? What stuff?  The stuff was thoughts, urges, fixed ways of being/doing.  My thoughts, my urges, my fixed ways of being/doing. The temptation to advise was strong.  The temptation to fix was strong. The temptation to minimise her suffering was strong.  And I was in a clearing where I could see this stuff clearly, let it arise, grasp it not, and so let it fall away.

What showed up after this conversation?  I noticed that I had allowed myself to get enrolled in her story. Specifically, I noticed that I had hostile feelings toward a number of actors who behaving badly were the cause of her suffering, her tears.  The next conversation was with one of these actors.

I noticed that I entered into the next conversation reluctantly.  Truthfully, I did not want to speak to him. He showed up for me as ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’ and thus ‘undeserving’ of my time, my listening, my love.  And I simply asked “How are you?” – letting go of the passion to give him a telling off.

He told his story and in the telling of his story he shared his pain and suffering. He burst into tears.  I found myself connected with him through his pain and suffering. I felt his pain, his suffering.  Again, the urge to fix the situation arose and tried to hook me. It fell away, I refused to grasp it.  I simply listened and in the listening got his pain, his suffering.  I just listened. And kept encouraging him to talk. Why was this necessary?

He did not want to take up my time. He did not want me to worry for him.  He did not want to cause me pain and suffering on his account. Ten or so minutes later, he was cried out.  He was no longer carrying his pain and his suffering had lessened. He told me that he loves me.  He told me that my existence matters to him. He told me that he wants to be near me – to get a hug. He told me that he never wants me to die.

A tear falls from my heart and my face.  What is the cause of this tear? I did nothing. I just listened.  I just let the other person tell his story and share his pain/suffering. I just said “I am sad to hear that you are in pain. I am sad that it hasn’t worked out the way you wanted it to work out. I wish I could fly over and give you big hug. I love you. And will it work for you if I ring you tomorrow and they day after?”

I am present to this: listening, pure listening, listening with compassion, shows up as huge source of contribution to the person who gets s/he has been listened to. And to me too.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

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