Listening to others is an endeavour and a practice that is vitally important for healthy productive work relationships and for personal relationships. If we cannot hear what another person is saying then we miss out on vital information that the other person is providing and we miss out on really getting to know the person and what they have to offer. If you are a leader in a company, in a family, in a community group or a thought leader on social media, you have a lot to offer but there is also a lot that you can gain by being a good listener. Listening means more than just listening to the words that people are saying, it also means listening and understanding the meaning and intention of the person who is talking. Good listening involves being still and making eye contact with the speaker. If a listener keep moving and doing what they are doing, i.e. multitasking, then real listening is not taking place. So much can be missed by not taking in the body language and the nuances of facial expressions if your mind and attention is on other things. A lot has been said about online interactions over the last three years (yes it is three years since the pandemic began). Many have said that online therapy or business meetings and consultations are not as effective as face to face and this is true in some cases. I believe that online interactions are effective and have opened up the whole world to us in a way that would not be possible without Zoom and other platforms. Effective listening can be achieved online or virtually if a person is still, open and not allowing other distractions to come into the room. Setting the space aside for another human whether it is in the office or workplace, in person, in the home or virtually can open up a world of possibilities. New information, constructive feedback, creative ideas, personal information can all be revealed if a person is listened to in a space that feels respectful and safe.
THE QUIET ONES
In meetings a leader might ask for feedback. When there is silence in the room a leader or chairperson might look for some assistance from the “talkative ones.” “What do you think? You always have some suggestions?” Instead of doing this, a leader might think about the “quiet ones” and wonder what ideas they might have. The “quiet ones” might have many ideas and suggestions rushing around inside their heads but they may not feel the confidence or self-belief to intervene with their ideas in a large meeting. A lot is written about imposter syndrome and the fear that some people have that their opinion or thought is not worthy of being heard. Leaders can miss out on so much value and input by not encouraging the “quiet ones” to speak, making space for them that is not hurried, by not moving on to the next person if the information is not at the tip of their tongue.
HOW TO LISTEN WELL
- Set time aside for each person.
- Value each person’s opinion.
- Park other pre-occupations.
- Listen to the words that are being spoken.
- Observe a person’s body language.
- Observe a person’s facial expressions.
- Listen for change of tone or tempo.
- Avoid multi-tasking, and pay attention.
- Include the “quiet ones” and don’t interrupt.
- Avoid providing advice while listening.
- Avoid telling your own stories while listening.
- Avoid one-upping by saying what happened to you.
- Don’t dismiss questions that might not appear relevant.
- Have an open mind and a willingness to learn.
- Don’t feel a need to fill every silence.
- Be aware that it takes some people longer to formulate the things they want to say.
- Don’t ruminate on previous conversations while you are listening.
- Don’t prepare your answer while you are listening.
- Ask “how?”, “what?”, open-ended questions if you need to clarify when the person has finished speaking.
- Summarise to check if you have heard what the person intended.
- Agree the route forward and reward a person for their contribution if appropriate. A reward may be saying thank you.
EMPATHY AND EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Listening well involves feeling and showing empathy for others in interpersonal relationships. It means that there is understanding and an appreciation of how others feel. It displays an emotional intelligence that is a beneficial and necessary trait in leaders in business or in the community. Self-awareness helps leaders to be aware of any hot-spots or sensitive areas so that they are not as easily triggered when they are listening to someone else. This can help people to avoid making disrespectful reactions or being dismissive of the other person’s right to have their own opinion. Listening to the meaning behind the words opens a window to another person’s opinions, values and the value that they have to offer. Being emotionally intelligent means that we do not have to be personally offended when a person offers another opinion that is contrary to ours. We can use this as an opportunity to be present for another person and to hear another perspective, which may be illuminating and valuable. Many employees move on to other employment because they feel that their opinions are not valued and the company is going to keep doing things the way they always did them. Listening well and incorporating new ideas can raise a company to a whole new level where morale is high and productivity is constantly increasing. Listening well in personal spaces improves relationships and clears out the clutter of misunderstandings and assumptions.
THE JOY OF LISTENING
All human beings need to be listened to. It is an essential part of being human, of being valued, connected, recognised and having a purpose in life. To listen to others can be challenging at times, and there can be a sensation of waiting for the turn to talk. Listening can be joyous, informative, fascinating, interesting and inclusive. Another person is inviting you into their world, into their thoughts and into their unique way of perceiving life, work, problem solving, experiences, creativity, fun and much more. Learning is endless in this journey of life and a lot can be learned by listening. Much can be learned from older people who have knowledge and experience and a lot can also learned from younger people who understand a new and different way of doing things. It can be good to sit down and listen without feeling any pressure to impart knowledge, to add your own value, as vast as it may be. Sometimes to just listen is enough.
In life we listen in many ways but they can be summarised in three ways:
Three levels of listening
Level 1 or ‘Internal listening’
A listener focuses in on themselves and their own thoughts rather than on the speaker. As the speaker is talking the listener interprets what they hear in terms of what it means to themselves. This occurs in everyday conversation where it is normal for a listener to absorb information to help them to form judgments and make decisions for life or for the day-to-day operation of a business or home.
Level 2 or ‘Listening to understand’
A listener is focused on the speaker, listening to the tone of voice, words and body language. The listener is not distracted by their own thoughts, opinions and feelings. The speaker feels understood and that they have been heard.
Level 3 or ‘Global Listening’
The listener focuses on the speaker and picks up more than the words that are being said. The listener will listen to all of the cues available, they will use their intuition and instinct, they will notice and signals and emotions from the body language of the person they are speaking with. The listener can assess the energy of the person they are with and their emotions as well as picking up what they are not saying. A listener will have a better understanding of what a person is thinking and feeling, and it is possible to be more empathetic to what the person is saying. This type of listening occurs in coaching with neuroscience but it can occur in any interaction or in any walk of life.
What can you do to listen well today?