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Listening From A Prison

2015. 05. 23.
Anna Jankovich
Anna Jankovich
Coaching Transitions



“If Only They Had Listened”

A couple of weeks ago, I went to visit a prison for a day, as part of a small group, north of Budapest.  As soon as the invitation arrived, my curiosity signed up without a moment of hesitation.

Having spent our day escorted by the “Commander” walking around the workshops, dining area, meeting prisoners in their cells, we ended our tour in the Chapel/Library where a 42 year old convict was chosen to speak to us.  He has been in prison for 20 years and has 163 days left till he is released.  One of the questions asked was “what could your parents have done differently when they raised you.”  Without much pondering he answered, “they should have listened to me more and listen to what I think and what I would like to do and not think only of their own agendas.”  Both his parents have passed away since he has been imprisoned.

The ability to listen is a unique quality which not many of us have.  Naturally, we listen to what we want to listen to, waiting for the other one to speak so that we can say what is on OUR mind or start thinking what we will say next.  Our day to day lives may not require more than a minimum level of listening, just as most of us never reach more than an average level of fitness.  We don’t need the muscles as we are not top notch athletes.  We listen mostly to the words and the focus is on what I said and what he/she said. We need to listen more with the heart and not always with the head.

The absence of real listening is especially common in the work force.  When there is pressure to get a job done or a deadline met, people listen to the minimum of what they need to do, so that they can move onto the next challenge.  It’s no wonder that people feel like they are in a ‘rat race’  and a serious common issue among companies is simply “employee engagement.” Everyone is talking and nobody is listening.  Listening is not simply quiet listening, there is action in listening.

Two Basic Actions in Listening:


1) Senses and Intuition: notice in the other person their breathing, the tone of the voice, their emotion, their body language, their pace of speech.  As I walked unexpectedly into a cell with 8 convicts, I noticed my own physical reaction and total discomfort. I was so aware of my reactions, that I took a step back, a deep breath and became fully present again.

2) Impact: what is YOUR impact from listening on others? By really listening well, you have choices you can make as to what steps are next.  When I asked the prisoner what he was looking forward too most when he steps out of prison in a few months, he replied “to have a child.” He smiled and there was a definite shift of energy in the room that was felt by all of us. As for me, it became clear that I have a choice to volunteer my time as a Coach in challenging sectors of our society, which I will start thinking of.

Listening is an effort and can enrich your own experiences.  People who don’t feel they are being listened to, can feel like prisoners.  Overlooking the significance of effective listening can have costly consequences; it can affect employee productivity, angry customers, bring employee moral down, create fear and resentments, create family tensions and in some cases, drive your loved ones away.

Think of someone you know and ask yourself what makes him or her a good listener. What do you need to do?