Speaking & Listening = Leading & Following

Michael Haug

Who wants to speak to someone who’s not listening? No thanks. Who wants to listen to someone who’s talking to themselves? Not I.

The ability to listen empowers you to be relevant when speaking. The ability to speak provides you perspective when listening.

It’s easy to think you know you’ve heard someone, yet you misinterpret them completely. It’s easy to assume someone understands you, but they don’t get you at all. These are breaks in our communication.

As with so many facets of life, dance can be an insightful metaphor. Because I can lead, I can better be present with my partner, when they lead. Because I can follow, I can better be present with my partner, when I lead them.

Leaders in dance can often become inwardly focused with constant thinking and rethinking in what, when, and how to move. However; to the follower who has never led, you cannot empathize with the lead and their challenges. When this happens, the leader is only thinking about leading and the follower is only thinking about following, as they dance “together”. This is as far from dancing as two people talking at one another is from a conversation. If we want to move together, physically or verbally, we need to understand and embrace both roles in the relationship. We need to feel each other to connect to each other.

The best speakers are feeling their audience as they speak. They feel the subtle cues, such as posture and eye contact, keeping their speech relevant and engaging. The best dance leads focus on subtle cues, feeling their follow’s reactions and refining their leadership to unleash their follow’s strengths. They feel what the follow can and cannot do and aim to keep their dancing to movement that is enjoyable for both.

The best listeners do not hear words at face value; they feel the message and interpret its underlying intent. Like listeners, the best follows can feel what the lead intends to lead and actively assist, versus passively following. “Oh, we are promenading into a triple spin to dip? Let me assist with that!”  versus, “Oh you’re moving here, and then here? Don’t forget to take me with you! You better dip me how I like it!”

If you want to be that engaging lead, creating dance moves as you go, you need to know how to follow to respectfully feel what your follow is doing. If you want to be a strong follow, effortlessly responding to turns, steps, and spins, it’s best you can feel what and how your lead is leading. You get that experience from leading. If you have ambition to be the most enjoyable dancer for both yourself and your partner, then you need to learn how to lead and follow, preferably at the same time. Learn both sides of the conversation. By powerful. Be independent. Contribute to the partnership. Don’t depend on it. Contribute as a lead or a follow, adapting to thrive in each moment of your dance, in partnership. 

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