Have you ever been described as a great listener? Would this describe you? Are you the person that keeps saying “Sorry, what did you say?” I was prompted to think about listening in the past few month because I was working on some business projects which required deep levels of listening on my part to get results needed for a team and a client’s business.
I put myself up to the challenge of really noticing how well I was listening while also taking in how other people listen in a conversation, so I could learn from them. In coaching, the most powerful tool we can use is listening, and listening in an active and fully present way. No matter where we are in our professional life, nothing gets achieved without listening. Mis-communication is often created by under-developed listening skills. People make assumptions based on what they thought they heard. The next thing, you are sitting in a reality far removed from the actual facts. Here are some thoughts on what listening can do for you, if you take up the 30-day challenge.
1. Listening is an internal and external dynamic
We cannot be listening to the inside and the outside at the same time. There is a distinction between practicing self-listening and other-listening. When you are self-listening, you are consciously following every thought and word you speak, and ensuring that it fits with those you are addressing, the environment and context. You are noticing how congruent you are with what you are saying. So if somebody asks you, “What did you say?” you can repeat it, instead of realising that you can’t actually remember. Being present to your own words and thoughts will keep your self-listening levels high. And it helps in negotiations to know exactly what you said throughout the discussions.
When you are other-listening, you are tracking for understanding of others, without comment, you are turning down the inner dialogue and literally hearing every word and idea being said. Distracted listening will show up where you need to repeatedly utter“Huh, What?” or a variation of this. You will look distracted, moving or fidgeting if you are thinking about what you are going to say next. This will be picked up as not being fully present to other person and will certainly affect the communication. This is a very common habit, particularly where there is a tempting smartphone near by to pick up and check. Listening deeply to the words, tone and gestures of others will give you a wealth of unspoken valuable insight into their way of working and help build a quality relationship with them. Don’t miss out on the cues to tell you how the conversation is going.
2. Literal listening creates clean language
Have you ever been in a conversation where somebody completely paraphrases what you just said? They don’t use the words you used and may even have turned what you said upside down. How did you feel? I’ve seen one incident where it was definitely not what the person said at all. It started a whole argument because one person was just making up what they heard. Putting words in people’s mouths does very little to build relationships.
This is called inferred listening, where we put our own spin on what we hear, usually for our own benefit. Literally listening to every word will never get you into trouble. It allows you to take what you heard and bring clear clean responses to your conversation. If you need to relate what they said, your literal listening will allow you to use their words in a clean way, rather than paraphrasing and inviting misunderstanding and, at worst, distance between people.
3. Listening is the only way to build interpersonal relationships
Whenever a person feels that you are listening and hearing them, you are actually including them. As far out from your own view as they may be, it is always a good practice to listen and then consider what they are saying. Listening to others is about receiving who they are, their contribution, ideas and points of view. Getting a reputation for poor listening will tend to alienate others and when you really need these people on your side, they may not be around. “They never listen anyway” is a good indication that relationships need building. I have heard it in many places I have worked in, and certainly in the parenting zone, it is a common theme.
4. Listening is great for concentration and recall
I noticed that the really great listeners are fully present in how they hold themselves. They are still, calm, nodding, and really seeking to understand. It comes back to one of the Steven Covey’s Seven Habits, Seek first to Understand. If you develop your skill of really listening, and recalling exactly through literal listening you will find people warm to you more readily. Over the years I have worked to develop skills in tracking what people said in earlier coaching conversations and so I can bring it into relevance where appropriate. It is an invaluable skill to have.
I recently had a conversation with a friend about learning styles in school children. A child who has only one channel switched on will struggle more in the classroom. This can often translate into poor academic performance. Seeing, hearing and doing is how we learn best. Listening and hearing is how we understand. A great way to develop your recall from listening is to close your eyes, listen to a dialogue and see how much you can remember verbatim.
5. Listening slows down our responses
Even when you are in a heated discussion with somebody, it is always worthwhile listening to everything that is being said and doing your best to hear what the other party is saying. If you are lost in your own responses, you may be drawing your own opinions from the interaction. You will hear the stuff you don’t like and miss the real words that are being spoken. And when you slow down your listening, it gives you time to ask “When you say this, what exactly does that mean to you?” It invites deeper understanding and empathy. A wise strategy I recently learned from a friend was to “say nothing, until you know more.”
Listening is not just confined to the spoken word and daily conversations: consider how you “listen” to the messages in emails and social media posts. Are you listening with your inner ear and asking what the intention of the message was or are you assuming a meaning that is not there? Listening as a communication skill can really take your relationships to another level.
Give yourself a 30-day challenge to see you well you listen. Can you do literal listening, as you stay fully present with the other person, instead of reaching for a distraction, thinking about your next utterance or making up your own interpretations of what somebody means. In the power of listening lies your communication and relationship success. See where you are in 30 days!