Shoes off, feat accomplished!

Getting into the shoes of each other is an exercise, which some facilitators do in communication workshops. I saw this for the first time when Dr. Benjamin Lozare of the Johns Hopkins University did it with us in a workshop. I have been doing it since then and find it very effective. It goes like this: get two volunteers to come up and ask them to get into each other’s shoes.  It takes them a while to start. They have known it as a phrase but haven’t really thought about it in practical terms. The exercise provides very useful insights on effective listening.

Some people attempt to get into the other person’s shoes without taking off their own. It does not work and makes the message clear:  take off your own shoes first, if you want to get into someone’s shoes. Often we don’t listen well because we are preoccupied with our own thoughts.

Some people don’t make an attempt as they believe they have a different shoe size and any effort will be in vain. Just like the difference in shoe sizes is a hindrance in allowing people to get into the shoes of each other, difference in age, gender, experience and perceptions between speaker and receiver becomes a barrier in effective communication. This explains the challenges of communication between parents and children, men and women, teacher and student, boss and his employees and many more situations.

What do we do then to be a good listener despite these very practical challenges? Instead of criticizing the speaker, a practical thing would be to remember taking off our shoes and make an attempt to listen. And then, listen for information that is important and useful to us. We may be able to find it invariably. James Nathan Miller summarizes it very well. “There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for. And questions are the breath of life for a conversation.”


3 Responses to Shoes off, feat accomplished!

  1. Feel really blessed to have had the pleasure of working under your able guidance. Listening to you has always been a learning experience. Still remember the story of the old sage and pigeon.

  2. Indrani says:

    This post reminds me of the story of an ancient sage to whom students came from far and wide for knowledge. Once an adolescent presented himself to the sage and requested to be initiated as his student. He told him that he had read and memorized all the scriptures and had been in the company of wise men. The sage told him that it would take 10 years for him to attain the ultimate knowledge from him. The boy was baffled. He informed the sage that he already knew a lot and had also studied a large number of religious books. etc. The sage answered that now it would take 20 years to acquire the knowledge. The boy was clueless and asked the sage to explain what he meant. The sage replied that to absorb knowledge you have to first become empty within. Only then can your mind truly understand and grasp the knowledge being provided. This is so true that to be in the other persons shoes we have to take off our shoes first.

  3. M N Afaque says:

    i always feel that i am good listener, but never thought it that way, got inspired by the story of sage by Indrani Madam. Surely going to use the exercise and keep myself learning & make people understand ” what actually the phrase mean”.


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