Active Listening & Creative Collaboration

“When I’m upset or hurting, the last thing I want to hear is advice, philosophy, psychology, or the other fellow’s point of view. That kind of talk makes me only feel worse than before … But let someone really listen, let someone acknowledge my inner pain and give me a chance to talk more about what’s troubling me, and I begin to feel less upset, less confused, more able to cope with my feelings and my problem.” How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk

Arguing for the importance of ‘listening’ as a crucial skill might seem like an unnecessary and one-sided debate. But listening is about to become more important than ever. The degree to which your professional effectiveness will be determined by your active listening abilities will increase as the future of work is shaped around the influence of AI and robotics. A 2017 report published by Nesta - a British innovation foundation - and the University of Oxford's Martin School listed the most desirable future work skills based on which occupations will become more important in the future, and active listening (“Giving full attention to what people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times”) was identified as the twelfth-most-important skill (behind decision-making, active learning, critical thinking and other Bleeker-endorsed capabilities).

Beyond it’s growing importance to your individual effectiveness, listening is also essential to the maintenance of healthy and productive partnerships. Practicing engaged and active listening can strengthen relationships with your spouse, your children, your friends and your colleagues. Strong listening skills can even help to save lives

But it’s all too easy to become a listening hypocrite; projecting the responsibility of listening onto everyone around you while elevating yourself into the role of commander-in-chief. It’s not uncommon to see this dynamic play out in times of crisis. When you’re working on a team in furious pursuit of a common goal, it might feel necessary to tune out your teammates (and the world at large) when time is running out and the pressure is rising. Like the point guard who waives off their coach’s play call in favor of hero-ball when the game is on the line. Or a showrunner who blocks out all suggestions from their writers, actors, and directors when it seems like their series is on the brink of cancellation. Or the driver who ignores advice from his fellow road-trippers, rerouted directions from Wayz and directions from the local gas station attendant after ending a long day of driving lost, hungry and tired.  

The instinct to go-it-alone when the going gets tough feels like a fight-or-flight survival tactic that our modern brains have inherited from our evolutionary predecessors. When a neanderthal saw a sabertooth tiger baring down on them, if their first instinct was to ask their cave-mate in which direction they should run to maximize their likelihood of escape, humans might never have evolved to sit atop the food chain. But in the absence of real and immediate existential danger, the instinct to shut off the world in times of crisis causes more harm than good, especially within groups or partnerships. It’s during these tense moments of crisis when the need to talk and be heard can feel at its most acute. Whether you’re the teammate whose response to challenging situations is a refusal to talk, a refusal to listen or a refusal to do either, you are sabotaging your team’s potential. On your path to creative mastery, you cannot afford to ignore the importance of practicing engaged and active listening.