When active listening, or even passive listening, may turn into something painful.

Something, that will change my point of view radically

Let me share an experience with you that happened to me yesterday. It was something, that will change my point of view about certain things radically.I was waiting for someone in a public building in a waiting area. The area was large, nicely equipped, and no one was there. It had many tables, sofas, plants, even a bar section. Really nice.I sat down at a table and had some business items with me. My laptop, receipts, my mobile phone, and such. I planned to use the waiting time to finish some administrative tasks. I took out the receipts and started to scan them with my mobile phone. Accounting was already waiting for it 🙂 It was nice doing that in a quiet sorrounding.
At least in the beginning.Not long after I started, two ladies entered the waiting area and they sat down at the table next to me. We greeted, and they started talking about a christmas concert. The elder lady talked about the songs to be chosen, which instruments are required and so on. It was quite interesting to listen. I thought, maybe I can learn how to arrange such a concert by listening to the conversation. Well, they sat next to me, so not listening was not an option anyway. The younger lady  must have been a singer. She listened mostly, made comments about the arrangements, and which songs can be sung in which way. Also quite interesting to hear. Although the approximity of their conversation was a bit uncomfortable, it was interesting information, and I was able train my listening skills a bit. Osmotic communication at its best. It distracted me from my actual work a bit, but still everything was ok.

After about ten minutes the situation began to change.

Dramatically it seemed they were probably done with the most important topics about the concerty. But now they started to talk about the musicians, less interesting to me but still bearable. But then she switched to relationship talk. It came out of nowhere. Without any warning or announcement. Why they are together, what they think about each other, what the purpose of being together is for these people, why they have kids or not and so on and so on and so on. So much information about people I probably never met or will meet in my life. It was not even chitchat. It was really something no foreigner is supposed to hear. The elder lady also seemed to be a bit confused about this type of information. It was too much. And too private. Her voice became louder. And she spoke faster. And again faster, and louder. And now with more enthusiasm. And she delivered more private facts. The elder lady listenend politly, sometimes asked a brief question. And the younger lady continued. She felt to me like a verbal machine gun. I had my earphones in my ears, but she was louder. She managed to have me listening without me wanting to. She tortured my ears, my mind, and challenged my self-control to a critical point.

So I had to stay

I had some options, such as walking around, going outside for a minute, etc., but I was unable to leave. The person I was waiting for was unreachable. So I had to stay otherwise I would have fled from this place like in an action-movie. Jumping out the window or so. To show them how drastically inappropriate it felt to me.
My mind started to beg for mercy. Please stop talking.
Or at least turn down the volume. And speak slower. When I finished sending my receipts, I got up and moved to a sofa a little further away from them. Soon after I did that, they left. I believe I was never in my life more thankful for somebody leaving. It was a relief. I started to feel better. I started to relax again. My mind stopped spinning, and my ears celebrated the quietness. For a while Until … Soon after the ladies left, two girls entered the area, and sat down at the sofa to the opposite of me. About one meter away.
Not somewhere in this empty room. No, right next to me!

Again they started talking.

And she opened her laptop and began to work on a power point presentation. About fabrics. Maybe for school. And she explained everything to the other girl. Clearly. With many words. Pretty loud. Not as loud as the lady before, but still loud. The other girl listened. And I – had to listen, too. Again. My head still was full with the verbal rapid fire of relationship talk. Too private relationship talk. And now I had to pick up information about fabrics. In every detail. Just as a reminder: The rest of the room was empty. They could have chosen three other sofas and maybe ten other tables. All further away from me. But they gave me the honor to sit next to me. And to be the one listening to a topic I was absolutely not interested in at that time.
I went to the restroom to get away from it, and when I returned, they were gone I was so thankful again. I felt reliefed, and I was tired. Sooo tired. I thought, I never want to hear anything about relationships or fabrics in my life again. Never again.
This experience showed me my personal limit when it comes to listening.
I mean, it was surreal. Like someone wanted to try out how much I can stand. Especially how much I can stand without saying clearly what I think about the behaviour. I could have done that, but then it would have probably ended in a difficult situation.

Listening is an important topic and skill to me.

I am still proud of me that I did not pass out or that I did say what I wanted to say. But it was close 😉 Listening is an important topic and skill to me. In my trainings I teach, that eyes and ears are the most important tools of Scrum Masters. Listening, especially active listening is a great skill and tool to understand situations, find impediments, and support people by finding root causes.
I need to add for future courses, that Scrum Masters need to be able to realize, when it is enough.
When active listening, or even passive listening, may turn into something painful. When it becomes damaging to oneself. If that happens, our power to support may have faded already. And then we need support.
So, my lessons learned is: Get away from a damaging situation as long as you can, and probably as soon as you can. Only stay, if something really important is at stakes, such as lifes. In any other situation, choose to stay healthy, to stay motivated. That’s why it is important to know personal limits. Even for listening.


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