We throw around the phrase “active listening” a lot in the business world. It's short hand for concentrating, understanding, responding meaningfully, and then remembering the conversation. That can be a challenge, but for the most part we get it right. But what happens if there is more than one voice? How do you manage the different ideas and unique lines of thought?
I sometimes lead an exercise creatively called “story.” Half a dozen participants stand in a line. I point at each of them one at a time and they make up a story, picking up where their colleague left off. Everyone shares the role of the narrator.
It’s collective storytelling, which means in order to tell a coherent story there needs to be collective listening. (For some reason the stories almost always involve dogs. I don’t know why. Someone look into that.)
There are challenges to this practice though. For example, it can be really tempting to throw in your own twist – or as we call it in the business world, "Hey, look at me!"
Once upon a time there was a dog…
…that loved running through the forest…
…and chasing squirrels…
…and then he blew up!
That non-sequitur is the equivalent of jumping to a new agenda item during a meeting, or skipping to the exciting reveal of a client pitch. "Story" quickly demonstrates the need for collective active listening, or, “honoring the intention" of who came before you.
Where was my colleague going with this? What’s the next obvious thing that needs to be addressed? How can I support that idea. It’s sharing the narrative. It’s sharing the story.
Actively tracking each piece of the conversation and being inspired by your team will lead you to a better place. You are literally moving the agenda…pitch…meeting…brainstorming session, in the same direction, with the same intention.