Views on Listening: reassurance

Doreen Dix at 90 with her seven children.

Doreen Dix at 90 with her seven children.

Shirley Wardell is a Leadership Foundation associate, and she works on the Research Team and Future Leader’s programmes. This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on listening, in which Shirley will be sharing insights from the results of a survey on the participants of the 50 Research Team Leadership programmes that have taken place throughout higher education over the past 8 years. Shirley has been a ‘Thinking Environment ®’ coach and consultant since 1997.

Reassurance: To comfort someone to stop them worrying.

My Granny told me a story about her hair falling out with worry. She had seven children and very little money and her stress levels were sky high. She went to see her family doctor and he said; ‘Mrs Dix, if worrying about it is going to pay some of the bills, would you go home and do some worrying for me too please.’ My Granny laughed and made a pact with herself to worry less. It wasn’t easy for her but her doctor had made it easier for her because he listened to her. He heard her say all the things that concerned her; she heard herself and knew that worrying was a little bit ridiculous and she was ready to agree with him when he told her that.

How can we stop our team members worrying, worrying that causes stress hormones to flow, stress hormones that make us more defensive, less creative and more withdrawn. Worrying thoughts intrude on the intellectual challenges of the day. Just when we need to open up we seem to shut down to defend ourselves. The survival instincts kick in and make us want to run, fight or hide, just when we need to relax, open up and take a risk. In these moments petty unfairness feels like a matter of life and death. When this is happening people need to be reassured. Simon Sinek, the management theorist ofl ‘Start with Why’ fame says that good leaders make you feel safe.

We can say: “Things will probably be ok.” “Your life is not at risk, it just feels that way.” Those words may help, but they will land better if the person worrying has had time to think it through first. There is a likelihood that the people you work with will talk themselves out of the justifiable, but unproductive worrying that they are doing. They are likely to identify the assumptions they are making and choose to assume something more practical, logical and hopeful and then your reassuring words will just affirm what they think. That would be brilliant.

Participants on the Research Team Leader course say that when they are listened to they feel reassured. It is probably worth trying that before we say anything that get’s in the way of them unraveling their mental knots. If we can listen with faith in their intelligence and an optimistic outlook Nancy Kline’s Time to Think observations suggest they will reassure themselves in your presence. Even though they did all the hard work themselves, you can still enjoy the fact that your non-judgemental presence was a catalyst for the constructive thoughts they had. Go listen and lead!

The previous blog posts from the Views on Listening series can be read here: Views on Listening