I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little apprehensive about the listening skills workshop I was about to attend in Hampshire.
Myself, and two other SAC’s, on a course where the next highest rank was a Sergeant would bring on mild anxiety at the best of the times, not least when the course you are attending is at an Officers’ Mess. The Listening Skills workshop that was organised by Reverend (Squadron Leader) Sheldon is held at Amport House. First impressions of the place were grand, historic and eerily quiet. The grounds around the place are kept in pristine condition, with the manor house as the centrepiece.
Constructed in 1857, the house has seen many occupants throughout its life, earning a reputation as a party house during Henry Paulets 16th Marquess of Winchester’s tenure of the household. It came into the possession of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, and after several changes in its role is now the tri-service Armed Forces Chaplaincy Training Centre. After a sociable meal we settled into Amport House for an evening drink before the following day’s instruction.
Following breakfast it was time for the course to start. I had always considered myself a fairly good listener, but after the 1st simple exercise I was unpleasantly surprised. After only five minutes of listening I was unable to recall anything except a few facts here and there of which Michelle had told me. Similar problems were had by Chris, who even managed to do a faux pas or two when relaying the information back to the course. At least I was spared that. Learning the lost art of conversation was hard, but the instructors were excellent. The way to listening is to be open ended. To not lead with questions but leave them open to the person whose talking, and build a rapport with the other person. It became apparent to me during the first of the role play segments how much I needed to improve these skills. My attempts at listening were fraught with leading question after leading question on my part, and like the pulling of a loose thread on a piece of clothing, it made the situation unravel! Luckily we were there to learn, and with the day drawing to a close we awaited the assessment the next day.
I was first up. Ten minutes on and my part will be done. Just remember the commandants of good listening. I opened the door to meet ‘Frank’, the man who I would be listening to for ten minutes. The actor did a fantastic job, it felt like talking to a real person. I did my best, I listened, I didn’t try to find solutions or answers and I tried to build a rapport. He didn’t exactly open up to me but I only had ten minutes, and at least he didn’t go steam ahead – that was saved for the other half of the course! With my ten minutes done I could relax until the next person. I came in mid flow through the conversation for ‘Christine’, and listened again. It came out that the characters were spouses, and both were going through relatively tough times. These facts came about from the listening skills that we had learned on the course.
The assessment was twenty minutes each, and it was hard work, but definitely worth it. The skills I have learned won’t make me a counsellor anytime soon, but they have a lot of benefit in every day life. To paraphrase Stephen R. Covey “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Some wise words indeed.