The Power of Listening

Hopevale CommunityIn my last blog, I described my first meeting with Estelle and Des Bowen. Over lots of cups of tea, they introduced me to their Indigenous world, of which I knew very little.

The Bowens invited me to their community, l thought for an informal conversation with friends and colleagues over a cup of tea. Many people arrived at the large meeting room and l started to wonder what they were all here to talk about.  I guessed that someone important had been invited to give a presentation. I was curious and took my place at the table amongst the group.

The meeting convened with an informal welcome from Des. He then handed me a marker, pointed to the whiteboard and said, “Present.” I was taken aback and totally unprepared!

You can imagine my corporate head. Always well-prepared, generally with a Powerpoint presentation. Always walking into a meeting with an agenda, with a set of clear outcomes that l wanted to achieve. As a senior manager working for a large corporate, there was a clear expectation that l was expected to have ‘answers’.

As Des held up the marker, an immediate thought flashed through my mind. “Oh my god, will l say the right things?  Do l know enough?”

I quickly summed up the situation and realised I could buy myself some time (ten paces worth) by taking the long route around the table.

“Fantastic,” I thought as I inched my way around the table. “I know don’t know anything. I’m not from anywhere. Great!”

Now these were actually positive thoughts, because when you are in this sort of situation you have to do things differently.

My thoughts continued: “I don’t belong to anyone.  I’m not from an agency or provider group.. I don’t have an agenda… I’m here for you. And the only way I can be here for you is to take a deep breath and listen…”

I recalled a quote l’d heard a long time before: “Our wisdom lies in the questions that we ask.” If I knew nothing, then I was going to have to listen, understand and learn. I would have to ask good questions and I was going to have to co-create.

I have to confess that I was in a bit of a state at the beginning of my talk, so I can’t remember exactly what happened initially. However, I do know that I very quickly started to get some insights.

I remember talking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is a psychological theory related to motivation. These needs are often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental levels of need (physiological, like food, water and shelter) at the bottom and the need for self-actualization (i.e. realizing one’s full potential) at the top.

I also talked about the Barrett Model of Cultural Entropy, which I will describe in later blogs.

I then asked the audience some simple questions:

“What defines your community?”

“What do you love?”

“If you could create the future, what would that future look like?”

These questions catalysed some great discussion and people started to become very engaged. I knew I had really made an impact when in response to one question, an Elder banged on the table and said, “This is what we want!”

Let me finish this blog with a question. Do you know what my greatest gift was that day?

It was this: at the beginning of the meeting I did not have any information. I had no answers.  My greatest gift was to ‘listen’.

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