When I work with a client in my coaching practice, my primary tool is Deep Listening. You might think this is self-evident: if you’re a coach or working in any other therapeutic profession where meaningful conversation is the foundation of the practice, the ability to listen deeply is pretty much all you have. Similarly, a researcher interviewing participants for a study must listen deeply to be able to discover what the participant knows—and more importantly, what they don’t necessarily realize they know.
As it happens, I’m doing some work analyzing market research interviews conducted by someone else. What strikes me is how the interviewer wasn’t really listening deeply to their participant. The interviewer might have been an engaging conversationalist in a social setting where regaling the other person with their own stories might be more appropriate. Certainly, not picking up on potential openings offered by the participant to probe deeper, to discover key distinctions between two similar ideas, is what I would call a “rookie mistake.” Deep Listening involves real-time processing, if you will, of what the other person says, and moving away from a rote agenda—the interview guide, or following a particular technique to the letter. When you are able to remain in inquiry, in the moment, and respond to where the other person is has begun to move, the interview becomes far richer, the coaching or counselling session more impactful and useful, and the connection between two people becomes more in sync.
In the sense of a meaningful conversation, dance is no different. It is true that the vocabulary of dance is movement rather than words. But the principle of Deep Listening applies equally in creating a meaningful and enjoyable dance connection.
Whether you are a follower or a leader, being completely present with your partner is the first element of Dance Deep Listening. Experience their response to your movement: Was your partner comfortable? Did your movement lead to a response that encouraged them to “up their game,” or was the response hesitant, unsure, or pulling back? Did your partner even know how to respond to what you just did? Next, use their response as an opening to “probe deeper,” that is, to build on their most recent movement in a way that takes both of you away from a rote response (for instance, that pattern you learned in the studio and have danced a hundred times)? If your partner isn’t quite able to respond in the way you expected to your movement, will you offer them something easier to respond to on the next exchange, and perhaps build more slowly, tacitly checking in as you go? And most definitely, don’t simply plow ahead with the next pattern you had planned three moves ago if your partner hasn’t been able to respond well to what you’ve done so far, or the dance is going in a different direction.
Paying close attention to what the other person needs at any given moment is the essence of Deep Listening. Responding in the moment, and following the ideas they share with an open heart and mind to a new and interesting place is the practice of Deep Listening. And being open to discovering something you hadn’t anticipated is the result of Deep Listening, when we…
See you on the dance floor.