The Art of Listening: The Parisian Way


We’ve heard of The Parisian Diet, now I think it’s time someone created a book about the art of Parisian active listening.

Since I can remember, I’ve been regularly informed that I’m a good active listener. But it wasn’t until I spent two days in Paris this week, en famille, that I noticed the true art of being present in a conversation. It was like watching a beautiful performance.

These are the points of difference I’ve observed, compared to common behaviours in America, the UK and Canada:

Mobile devices are out of sight.

It is rare to see a mobile phone out on the table in a Parisian café or restaurant. I didn’t observe people obsessively checking a pocketed phone either. It’s almost as though there is an unspoken, agreed-upon etiquette that is respected and adhered to by all: We meet to interact directly; distractions have no place here.

Focused conversations take priority.

It is the reason for in person meetings. In the absence of the intense attention-grabbing distractions of online life, one-on-one discussions can deepen and linger, new ideas can take hold, relationships can experience transformations. It’s valued facetime.

There is no rush.

In the time it took our family of four to be seated, order, eat, pay and leave, the people around us were still sipping the same espresso, savouring every drop, every word, every moment of the opportunity to connect and understand one another better.

People really listen to each other.

I could see constant, quiet affirmation and acknowledgement from the listener. Parisians look calmly, deeply and genuinely into the speaker’s eyes, offering the gift of their full, conscious attention. It didn’t feel as though they were just ‘waiting for their turn to speak’ – they were actively engaged in what the other person had to say.

There was no observable urgency to interrupt.

Most of us have felt the compulsion to jump into a conversation the very instant we have a thought to express. Conversations can become fragmented, heated, or go off on tangents. Thoughts are left incomplete and self-expression goes unsatisfied. We must get in our ‘sell’. But here, in this sanctuary of communication, the end of the story is afforded the same attention as the beginning. Each thought is permitted to reach its destination.

Bottom line:

Today’s frantic world could learn a lot from the distraction-free conversational artistry that I observed in the cafés of Paris where being heard and understood is the norm. If there isn’t an “active listening” book created by a Parisian soon, I may be forced to spend 6-months in Paris researching the culture more closely.

Caroline Stokes is founder of FORWARD Human Capital Solutions. FORWARD does things differently for people in digital organisations who demand inspiring talent solutions for transformative results.

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