After a major facilitation I am always quite exhausted from the energy it takes to be in the moment, connected with the participants, and anticipating what needs to happen next. Yesterday I discovered where much of that energy really goes—into active listening.
I attended an intimate one-day executive communications workshop as the participant. At the end of the day I was almost as drained as I would be if I had been the leader and facilitator. Moment of insight: the real heavy lifting of learning and relationship building is not in what you say. It is in what you truly hear and understand.
In active listening, we have quite a lot of attention and mental processing happening. Active listening requires a response. We are trying out new ideas, thinking about our own experiences with familiar concepts, and considering perspectives others might have. At a minimum we might be taking notes to help retain key ideas. Quite often we have to demonstrate our understanding through what we say next or by performing some activity that tests our comprehension.
The brain is definitely not idling. It is making sense of the experience, managing the emotional dimension of the experience, and creating neural pathways for these memories.
So the next time I lead a workshop, I hope I absolutely wear my participants out. Not because I tried to cram in a lot of knowledge and learning activities. But because I did everything I could do as a leader and facilitator to maximize the mutual experience of active listening.