Last week a friend of mine shared his deeply personal feelings about a family member. In the moment, I recognized the opportunity to give a rare gift that I myself had recently been given: The gift of pure presence and silence – in human form.  Just as my friend did for me, I put my ‘listening hat’ on and kept it there. I held the space for my friend to speak freely, uninterrupted, for as long as he needed – ears and heart fully open.

So often we think we’re listening but we’re really just waiting for our turn to talk. We’re not intentionally rude or self-absorbed – it’s only natural to want to engage, ask clarifying questions, or interject a personal observation. But some conversations are not two-way. Some conversations – if we are to fully engage – require our silence.

I can say from personal experience – having been both giver and receiver – that the full impact of this gift is not to be underestimated.

Leadership training with horses teaches us many skills – chief among them, how to listen. Horses communicate non-verbally, so listening to them requires our full presence and keen attention to subtle, non-verbal cues. In turn, the horse listens to us – without judgement and with great patience. They allow us come to our own answers, our own insights. And they give us a nudge at the very moment we need it… as long as we’re listening. To practice active listening skills with a thousand pound animal somehow drives its importance home in a new way – one that brings the value of listening to a somatic (bodily) level.   

Next time you’re presented with the opportunity to give a gift that no one will soon forget, I invite you to put your listening hat on and leave it there.