Yesterday, I sat down with Paul McLain, a medical doctor who I met in fencing lessons (yes! I love fencing. It's so fun!). We had a conversation for a special project I'm working on called "Beyond the Gobbledygook"—moving beyond all barriers to connect with what's the most real.
Last week, he emailed me and said:
"Hi Hannah—Just finished reading and partially digesting the three articles on listening. Nicely done—just enough stimulus to really initiate thinking and reflection. What's NOT said in the pieces and the questions they generate is really the most important feature of them."
I asked about what he meant in our chat (we recorded it, and will be sharing audio / video soon!).
He talked about how people walk into his office (the doctor's office; him being the doctor) with him having all the power. He said he realizes its something learned, expected, something we've been taught in our society and culture. People come in pain, and the doctor has the power. That dynamic is an acknowledgement that the doctor has the power to diagnose, to prescribe—or not. To either facilitate their healing or to be an insignificant blip in their journey toward healing—or somewhere in between. What he described was intentionally not taking that power. He said that he doesn't give it up completely, because that would be stupid. He is a doctor. He has knowledge he can bring about what might be going on. AND that he intentionally ensures that it's both of them discovering together. He says that's where the magic is. That's where the healing is. In their relationship and connection together.
Sharing the power. Giving some of the power back to the person, and not accepting it.
Years ago, I was one of the 1-2 non-therapists at an international Narrative Therapy conference in Vancouver BC. I wrote about it here in an article called "Person vs. Professional." The keynote at that conference, Marcela Polanco, addressed "the fuckery of professionalism" that has impacted how we "be" together. That fuckery doesn't just apply to how we be together in power dynamics of doctors offices and board rooms, but also how we be together at dinner parties, and in our voting booths and in reading news articles. And yes, for those of us as managers, how we meet 1:1 with employees as "the boss."
By the way, if you're interested in her work, something related: she and James Hibel wrote "Tuning the Ear: Listening in Narrative Therapy" for the Journal of Systemic Therapies. You can check it out here.
We live in a society where we value titles and roles over what people are actually bringing and who they "be" and have to say that's of value.
Not hypothetical people. Real people.
The people in our lives. In our offices. In our families. The people we have relationships with.
In our culture, we sensationalize youth, but struggle to know how to listen to young people and how to handle what they say. We want to fight against systems built by elders and seniors, and struggle with how to be together—go together—with them, and if that's even possible. Name the people group (we have so many titles and names for types of people in our world today), and we struggle to hear them for one good reason or another. Ages and life stages of people, identity categories (gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity), and job titles like boss board member or rookie or entry-level employee. We are kept from taking people seriously and listening to them.
If it was normal, maybe it wouldn't feel so revolutionary.
We're in it together though. For real. We're all learning how to be. We all have a choice to see or not see what the results are of our "normal" ways of being. If we see, then we can decide if those results are what we really want.
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." - Viktor Frankl
There's this idea of "levels of listening." Otto Scharmer, Theory U. Superficial listening is just smiling and nodding. In one ear and out the other. Confirming what we already know. The deepest level of listening is where we're open to not just our heart and mind being impacted, but even our will—our choices and decisions—transforming as a result.
Where are you in your listening? What level of listening is normal for you?
What would it look like to share the power and perhaps be the better—your world, your life, your community—be the better for it?
Cheers to real life—the messy and the beautiful.