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Listening with Full Attention with Claire Bradshaw

Listening with Full Attention with Claire Bradshaw



This week I’m delighted to be talking to Claire Bradshaw.
Claire is an experienced coach, trainer and facilitator who brings a lot of positive energy and curiosity to her work.
In today’s chat we talk about the values that drive her work, listening with full attention, the power of questions, and her passion for outdoor coaching.
We talk about the similarities between her work and the work we do facilitating discussions around artworks with participants.
We discuss the importance of listening skills and what good listening is. Claire shares a variety of tips for how you can develop your listening skills – including some practical exercises too!
Support the Show
Claire Bradshaw website
Consciously Connected Newsletter
Julian Treasure 5 Ways to Listen Better
Nancy Kline’s Time to Think and other books
John Whittington’s Systemic Coaching and Constellations: The Principles, Practices and Application for Individuals, Teams and Groups


Claire Bown 00:03
Hi, Claire, Welcome to The Art Engager podcast.
Claire Bradshaw 00:07
Good to be here.
Claire Bown 00:09
So glad you could come on today. Tell us where are you right now.
Claire Bradshaw 00:15
So right now, excuse me. Right now I am in my shed in the garden, in Stockport in the United Kingdom, quite on the edge of the Peak District, I can see lots of green through the windows of the room, and the hills are not too far away. So I don’t know if you can picture that. And it’s quite bright today, actually, which is, which is nice.
Claire Bown 00:43
That’s lovely to hear, especially to hear about hills, being based in the Netherlands, everything’s pretty flat around here. So could you tell us what it is that you do and sort of how you came to be doing what you’re doing?
Claire Bradshaw 00:56
Yeah, sure. So I’m a coach, and trainer and facilitator. And I think probably if I’m honest, I’ve had a coaching approach through most of my life, I’m definitely a coach-y sort of parent, I was definitely when I worked in organisations a coach-y sort of leader. And I think it was probably only when I trained as a coach that I really started to recognise that. And I think it probably comes from being quite high questioning, curious sort of person. And so for many years, I’m trained as a librarian, and a librarian by background, so lots of synergies from the library world, I think, with the world of museums and galleries, lots of questioning, lots of listening. And got really curious about individual development, worked with teams worked in organisational learning and development for a few years in public services in the UK. And then, about six or seven years ago, I decided to branch out and set up my own business doing all of those kinds of things, partly to enable me to work with different kinds of people in different kinds of organisations. So to spread my wings, and yeah, to, to add a bit of energy and diversity. I think it’s the work that I was doing.
Claire Bown 02:38
Thanks for sharing. And I know that in the work that you do. And so I’ve got to know you over the last few months, and we have a lot of things in common as well, I know that you approach your work in a specific way, are there values or principles that are essential to your practice as a coach?
Claire Bradshaw 02:58
Well, thank you for asking that, actually, it’s a really interesting question and not one that I get asked very often. And I’ve recently been doing some work with a brilliant woman called Karen Smith around social value, and the social value of my company, and the work that I do, and once we started to dig into my personal values, actually, they’re so aligned with coaching, and what that gives to people. And so thinking about things like, and I think perhaps this is high up in a lot of people’s, you know, value sets is around fairness and equality, and giving a voice to people that might not otherwise be heard. So coaching, you know, one of the key most fundamental aspects of coaching is listening with full attention. And, you know, if you think about how rarely that happens, and how we are perhaps more ready in society to listen to some voices more than others. And so, you know, I’m sitting here as a, as a woman, knowing what sometimes it can be like to be in meetings not and not be heard, not be listened to, and someone else say the same thing. And suddenly they are heard. So, yeah, fairness and equality. Absolutely. And then, you know, enabling people to when they have that voice to share with themselves, and for that to be enough, not to try to be somebody else. And there’s a real thread through coaching of enabling people to work authentically. Both within themselves, so you know, in terms of a congruency of what they think. So they kind of call it cognitive-self and what they know in their body and working with that, that congruence And also, you know something about kindness. Hear that in coaching conversations, sometimes, you know, I’ll be working with somebody and the voice that they’re using to talk to themselves, you know, those kinds of scripts may be that, that playing out for them, and not as kind as the voice that they might use towards other people. So I think kindness and compassion really are the values that are at play here as well.
Claire Bown 05:31
Thanks for sharing. And when you were talking about some of those values and principles in your approach, I keep thinking about lots of similarities as well between the work that we do the work that we do in the museum with groups how we facilitate conversations in a museum or a heritage setting. So what can we as museum educators, or heritage educators? What can we learn from coaching?
Claire Bradshaw 05:58
Oh, yeah, I think you’re right, Claire, I think there are huge crossovers, and they’ve come through in the conversations that that that you and I have had in the past, for sure. I think, I think one of the key aspects of coaching is listening without judgement, really enabling somebody else to connect with their own map of the world, if you like, or not make assumptions from your own stuff from your own history, and values. That might lead people down a path that isn’t authentic, or that that isn’t right, for them that isn’t useful. So I think listening without judgement, with that full attention that I mentioned before, enables us to work fairly and kindly and authentically and enable people to find solutions that are right for them, not the ones that other people might impose on them. So yeah, listening Most definitely. And I think, you know, I’ve heard some of your other podcasts, Claire, about questions and the power of questions, and, and how to be able to frame those in a way that that becomes really powerful, and an enabler of other people’s thinking and insight. So yeah, definitely. Questions is a thread that runs through the work that both of us do, I think with questions, you know, sometimes less is more – short, succinct, clear. Questions, really kind of lock things for people, add another perspective that perhaps they did not recognise before. Sometimes it can be challenging as well. And, you know, when you’ve got a connection with a person or a group, and some rapport with them, then that enables you to offer a little bit of challenge through questioning as well, which can be which can be useful in the right context.
Claire Bown 08:01
Thanks for sharing. And I can also also thinking about sort of getting those groups building that rapport with the groups is also an essential part of your work and essential part of our work as well get creating that trust, creating that social comfort so that people feel able to contribute to the conversation that’s happening.
Claire Bradshaw 08:21
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I train people to become coaches. And what I often find myself saying to them, is actually you can have the best coaching toolkit in the world with the most powerful questions and techniques and tools. Actually, if there isn’t that connection, that trust that resonance between yourself and the people or person that you’re working with. It’s not going to be a successful relationship. And you know, that, that comes from our state, how we show up into that, what’s going on for us inwardly how we are in our bodies, think what assumptions we’re taking into that into that space? What’s happened previously, maybe in that relationship. So yeah, absolutely trust is is fundamental people will not open up and allow themselves to think really well if they’re not in the presence of someone that they trust.
Claire Bown 09:36
Absolutely. And I’d love to return to this. If we have time. We’re definitely going to return to talking about listening skills as well but I do want to sort of move slightly sideways and talk about something that I think is quite unique in your work and that’s outdoors coaching and this I find completely fascinating. I think you probably know about my passion for slow looking for taking walks outside and spending time to notice the details. So could you talk a little bit about your passion and enthusiasm for outdoors coaching and why you work in this way?
Claire Bradshaw 10:12
Hmm.. Oh, yes, you might have to shut me up Claire, once I get going on this. So I think I came to, I think I’ve always been booked it to live in spaces with access to green And, and that’s really become part of how I do my best thinking. So I know that if I’m stuck with something, or if I’ve got a decision to make, then there are certain kinds of spaces that I will seek out, outdoor spaces to go and do that thinking. And I find the possibilities open up. And where I get, I get to where I need to be much quicker. And much more creatively than I would do, if I were sat at a desk, I’m sure no good ideas ever came from staring a blank sheet of paper or a screen at a desk. And for me, that’s, that’s high up spaces. So I like you know, big views, big skies, and that really helps me but I recognise for some people, that’s not the case, and actually more contained spaces, maybe woodland, or where there’s movement through the flow of water opens up people’s thinking. And I think that’s a lot of that is connected with well being. And there’s been a lot of research particularly through that’s come to light through lockdown around the positive physical and psychological effect that being outside, particularly in green spaces or blue spaces. So beside water can have for our well being some research done around forest bathing, for example, and how that can really help with with absolute things like immunity, and so on. So there’s a bit of a wellbeing draw, as well to being outside. And you notice. So if I’m meeting a client, indoors, perhaps in a foyer, or something like that, and we step outside, you can really notice the physical change that happens for that person. So as you take that first step outside, and perhaps notice them breath in more deeply, a few times, and you might notice that their shoulders relax a little bit more. And they’re almost like shaking off their corporate self or the self that’s been indoors, and really connecting with a different part of themselves. And in coaching, of course, we’re not just wanting people to engage into it cognitively, if you can bring somebody’s whole self into that coaching conversation, then there’s going to be greater depth and greater insight. And ultimately, the choices that they make on the back of that coaching are going to be more aligned, and more congruent for them. So you know, there’s something about creativity, there’s something about wellness, and there’s something about it being quite an holistic approach, I think, working outside, not to mention enjoyment, of course
Claire Bown 13:23
Absolutely, even in wintertime as well, and you get to feel the beautiful snow and the frost was something you were talking about. There just reminded me of a conversation I had a few episodes ago with Catherine Chastney. And we were talking about having conversations side by side with people as well. And I imagine once if you’re walking and talking, it creates an entirely different dynamic being side by side to someone than being opposite them having a conversation.
Claire Bradshaw 13:53
Absolutely. So. So it’s kind of a physical metaphor, isn’t it for being alongside someone? I think I’ve heard in the past, you know, if you want to have a difficult conversation with a teenager, the best place to do that is in the car, side by side. Because you know, any sense of confrontation is not there. And I think there’s something about that shared perspective that you have so know if you if you’re walking along a river, for example, and there were some ducks that arrive and land on the water, then that’s something that you’ve shared together. And we know don’t we that when that happens, there is a connection formed from that shared experience. I think there’s also something really important about the physical movement, as well. So coaching is a future-focused activity. It’s looking it’s looking forward towards a change something being different and and when You’re walking alongside definitely a towards kind of motion that helps people move move forward in their decisions in their thinking as well as physically moving forward.
Claire Bown 15:15
I guess also thinking about outdoors, coaching and thinking about listening skills, which I’d like to move on to and focus on as well, it’s, it helps people to really listen because they are taken away from their normal surroundings. And it helps them to focus on what’s being said.
Claire Bradshaw 15:35
Yes, absolutely. And there’s a stillness, I think, even in poor weather, there is something about being outside that, that enables people to yeah, to have focus. So there’s some research done around kind of soft focus and hard focus. So if think about, if you’ve got to write a report, or do your homework or produce a piece of work, we can be focused on that for quite a long period of time. And, and it’s takes, it requires a lot of energy. And when we step outside, we are able to focus more softly on what’s around us. So things are kind of, the edges are a bit blurred. And not only is that good for our wellbeing, but it’s also good for our creativity. And I think brings another perspective into things as well. So you know, that that sensation, perhaps where you’re trying to recall or remember, something and the harder you think about it, the more hard the focus, the less able you are to make that recall. And then a bit later on, when you’re not thinking about it, that’s when it will come to you. And I think some of that is the effect of the outdoors as well, softening that focus that we have, and letting in creativity into those conversations. So so after perhaps as a coach is asked a question, that soft focus tunes people in to, to the resources that are around them, as well as the resources that are in within them. And that can lead to quite a different conversation to the one that you might have in an office space, or the plus room or somewhere like that.
Claire Bown 17:37
Yeah, definitely. And I know because I’ve participated on a Street Wisdom walk with you. And some of the insights that we gained from that walk. were fascinating and unexpected as well. Could you talk us through a little bit about your work that you do for Street Wisdom.
Claire Bradshaw 17:57
I love Street Wisdom, it’s it’s a social enterprise, it’s global. And it’s really straightforward. And, and something that you can do for yourself. So it’s great to go on. You can look up there, I think it’s deep wisdom to org, you can check out their website and find something there to you. Once you’ve done that, once it’s then a tool that you can, you can use in your own life in your own practice, not necessarily needing that guidance anymore. And it’s the first part is getting connected with your surroundings. So really tuning in becoming mindful of what’s around you. And you can do this outdoors, I would imagine that that a museum or a gallery would be a great place to do this as well. So really noticing, for example, the way that your feet fall upon the floor, how your body is really slowing down and tuning in and noticing things that we might otherwise take for granted. So spare, it’s important to spend that time really tuning into yourself into the environment. And then you take a question, so something that’s meaningful for you. That’s that’s containable as well. So you know, world peace might be a bit too big. What am I going to have a tea might be a bit too small. So something in between, and you take that question out to the universe out to that environment and see what answers come back. From that space, once you’re tuned into it, and it really helps is, you know, the metaphor that’s contained in that environment just brings a magic to the to the thinking and people go away with real insight that they’ve gleaned just from noticing in a different way. And then the third part in a group session is that collaboration at the end What happened to you? How was it and that shared experience of almost being on a different playing, if you like, but together, it’s lovely.
Claire Bown 20:10
It is lovely. And I can remember specific moments of that walk as well and what I was thinking about. So it definitely had an effect. And it reminds me of an approach that’s called art based learning that we’ve just, I’ve done a course on in the membership, which also asks you to take a question and take that question and take it to an artwork and step inside the artwork, and then see afterwards, if you have any insights related to your question. And it is fascinating, the links between the two of them, but also, the insights that you don’t expect you’re going to get, it’s quite unexpected at the beginning, you think, oh, not sure, I’m going to get much out of this. I’m not sure how it’s gonna work. But the insights might come immediately afterwards, or even in some cases, with art based learning, they can come in the next few days, you can have more insights. So there’s lots of parallels there as well.
Claire Bradshaw 21:06
And something about the visual as well, I think, Claire, that I think it’s in kind of quite traditional coaching. Sometimes people come to that, because because they’re brilliant thinkers, you know, I work with some amazing people who are who are amazing thinkers, actually, they’ve got caught up in their thinking in their thoughts and a little bit stuck. And sometimes that’s the entry point into coaching. And being outdoors, or being in a space where there’s lots of visual stimuli, helps people get out of their head a little bit and into their bodies. And by noticing what’s around them, tuning into what they see, and hear, and, and sense and feel. But then that how that stays in your memory. You know, there’s something sticky isn’t there about the visual, it remains with you. And I find that sometimes my clients want to take a photograph of a space or a tree, or something where they’ve had a moment of insight, or where something has changed for them. And then that’s enough for them, they might stick it on a laptop when they get back or, or have it close to them to remind them of that moment. So something Yeah, something really powerful in the visual, I think,
Claire Bown 22:36
of lots and lots of parallels there with what happens in museums and galleries and the experiences people have and how they can sometimes be transformative and memorable. And they can last with a credibly long time as well. But I’d love to move on. Even though I could talk to you about this subject all day, I’d love to talk a little bit about listening. Because you’ve mentioned listening right at the very beginning. And I’d love to just focus a bit on why listening is important. And what does good listening look like?
Claire Bradshaw 23:11
Well, perhaps I’ll start that, that answer if I may, with a question. And invite people to think about when the last time was that you were listened to really well, really felt heard. And I asked this sometimes in groups that I’m working with, and sometimes people are fortunate, and they’ve had that experience relatively recently. And for many, many people, it’s difficult to recall a time. And and by listening really well, I think what I’m meaning by that is that the listener is listening with the intention to ignite. So there’s a brilliant writer on this subject called Nancy Klein, who I know we’ve talked about before as well. And she talks about listening to ignite. So this is about tuning into what said What’s unsaid and what’s going on in people’s body language. And, and their responses to things that are perhaps between the lines if you like, and it takes energy to listen in that way and intention to do so. But it is so powerful. Nancy Klein calls it generative listening. And it’s amazing where people will get to when they’re listened to in that way
Claire Bown 24:48
So we all know that listening is a skill that we should work on and we should develop but could you share with us Some tips for how we can practically develop our listening skills because I think we all intend to listen as actively or generatively as possible. But sometimes it’s so hard to avoid the distractions, especially if you’re working in a busy Museum, and there are other distractions going on. So do you have any tips that you can share, for us to develop and hone our listening skills?
Claire Bradshaw 25:29
Okay, yeah, I think there’s something really important about taking away some of the distractions that are within our gift to control. So if you’re looking at a screen, that might be about turning off notifications, if you’re in a museum space, that might be about I don’t know, might be about turning alarms off your watch, or making sure that you know, people recognise what you’re doing in that time, so that they that you’re not interrupted. So to minimise distractions, as much as possible, and then it’s about being present for yourself. So not thinking about what what you’ve just come from meetings over the group’s, or conversations or questions or lunch, or whatever it is, and not thinking about what’s coming next. So yeah, what what groups in next or whether you’re going to be able to get away on time, or anything like that, it’s about being really present in the now. And I find mindfulness really useful for that little bit of yoga for five minutes, or even, you know, if that’s not possible, just a bit of a walk in a different space, or sitting and noticing my breathing. And tuning into that, doing a bit of a body scan, noticing what’s going on there and relaxing. So something about creating a state that’s conducive to listening in the amount of time that you’ve got available. And of course, the more time that you have available, the easier that’s going to be. And then I think there’s something really simple about setting an intention to listen, and to be curious. And making that as a kind of deal with yourself. It is my intention for the next hour to be a fabulous listener. And even saying that out loud, can be useful. I think there’s something about letting go of attachment to being right, all the time, which I know is easier said than done thing, particularly when you’re in an educative role. Something about letting go of that. And that I think really enables us to listen to what’s being said, rather than what we would like people to say, or what we anticipate people might say. And then that’s a client talks a lot about appreciation. So really, getting into that mindset of appreciating what it is that you’re hearing. And the gifts that that brings to everybody involved in that conversation. And, and holding on to that belief is a real coaching belief. But I think I think it’s much, much wider than that, that people have their own answers within them. And that through listening, and listening in itself is helping them to unlock and discover those answers for themselves. So there might be something as well about practising listening, keep going back to it, there was there are little exercises that you can do. There’s a chap, I’m just gonna have a look for his name in my notes in front of me. Julian,
Claire Bown 29:00
Julian Treasure,
Claire Bradshaw 29:01
thank you. Thank you for helping. So he’s really good. He’s got some great tips on listing and he talks about spending some time in silence every day. And thinking about how hard it might be to actually do that. And then if you are in a noisy environment, taking a moment think about how many things can I actually hear how many channels of communication are going into my listening at this point. And really savouring the mundane even if it’s the washing machine go round or, or whatever that is really appreciating the ordinary sounds in life and taking different positions to listen to the same thing and seeing what that’s like as well. So, so really getting curious and playful, with the art of listening I think can be can be a real way to develop skills in that area.
Claire Bown 30:01
Thanks for sharing some practical advice as well as your brilliant tips as well going back to thinking about how we think about time, because I know quite often on our programmes, we feel quite pressured for time being in the moment, thinking about what’s happening now being present and not thinking ahead. Quite often we’re thinking, you know, what question we’re going to ask next, or what artwork or object we’re going to go to next, but actually is taking a step back and really being present and appreciating the time and effort is taking someone to actually participate in the conversation and then sharing all those tips from Julian treasurer. And I will put a link in the show notes. Because I agree, he shares some wonderful tips and some good exercises that you can do to hone your listening skills. So thanks for that. Now, I’d like to pick your brain a little more, and just ask you to share a book or books that you would recommend to anyone listening. So what books have been inspirational for you?
Claire Bradshaw 31:00
Oh, wow, where to start? I think I mentioned at the beginning didn’t, I was a librarian before. So books are a bit of a thing in in my life, and there’s never enough time to read or listen to all the books that you want to, I think, time to think by Nancy Klein is one of the most transformative books that I’ve read. And at the same time, you know, it’s so accessible and so practical, as well, as nuts claims are in two books subsequent to that, which are worth worth a read as well, I think. So. Yeah, definitely that and then kind of not not necessarily related to what we’ve been talking about today. But there’s a book called systemic coaching and constellations, you know, brings to mind a real picture, doesn’t it have stars joining together. And that’s about systems, thinking about enabling people to connect with what’s gone before and where they’re going and other relationships in the system. I’m looking at my bookshelf, Claire, that’s as we were talking here,
Claire Bown 32:20
You recommended that Nancy Klein to me, and it was time to think it’s a fantastic read. And I’ve recommended it to lots of people afterwards. So I definitely put a link to that. And the second book as well, thank you so much for sharing. I also have an overflowing bookshelf, and maybe we should get you back to talk about some of the books that you find inspirational in the future
Claire Bradshaw 32:40
Oh, yeah, that’d be amazing.
Claire Bown 32:44
Great. So I know I’ve taken up a huge amount of your time, and I really appreciate it. But how can people find out more about you or reach out to you?
Claire Bradshaw 32:54
Oh, thank you for asking that, Claire. Well, they, my website is a good place to start, I think. So that is And you can find on there a link to subscribe to my newsletter, which has articles in it around lots of the things that we talked about today, actually. And also the courses in the trainings that are coming up and some information about my approach. Coating outdoors, and, and so on. So yeah, I think that would be a really good place for for people to start. And I’m sure I’m I’m writing a book where it’s taken a long time. But soon, there will be a book about coaching outdoors, which I’m really excited about, and a set of coaching cards as well with some really lovely questions and some amazing photographs, to go with them as well. So next year, for sure, they will be a way to connect with the work that I do as well.
Claire Bown 34:09
Fantastic. I can’t wait for your book to come out. And I will put a link to your website in the show notes so people can subscribe to your newsletter, which is Consciously Connected, Isn’t it fantastic newsletter, and also see about all your upcoming master classes and courses and things going on as well and even to read more about your approach to coaching. So thank you so much for coming on today. Honestly, we could have changed we could have chatted for so much longer, but I will cut you short this time. And thank you for all the wisdom that you’ve shared and hope we get a chance to speak again in the future. Thanks, Claire.
Claire Bradshaw 34:45
Thank you, Claire. Thanks for the invitation. Lovely to see you.
Claire Bown 34:48