When we think of communication skills, we tend to think of how we speak or how we present. Listening skills rarely get a mention.
A typical scenario, someone asks you “how was your weekend” but before you can answer, they were telling you about their amazing weekend. How do you feel? The other party are asking a question with the sole purpose of telling you about themselves. In truth they have very little interest in listening to you. How many times have you experienced this?
How many other poor listening behaviours can you recognise?
Someone who wants to give you advice without really listening or understanding your issues. A colleague who believes a good conversation is one in which they do most of the talking. The friend who speaks over you not allowing you to finish your sentence or even worse, finishes your sentence for you. Of course, the one we find most frustrating, the person who tells you to carry on speaking while they check their emails or their phone messages.
We all just want to be heard.
Becoming an effective listener is not something that just happens by
chance. It is a skill that takes conscious effort to develop but once you grow in this area, no other skill will serve you better in your personal or work life. Effective listening is at the heart of
everything we do as leaders, be that managing people or dealing with clients. Effective listening can give you the edge.
Only by properly listening do we earn the right to comment on the other
party’s situation, but what do we mean by properly listening?
There are three levels of listening which you can employ to develop this much underrated skill.
1 Internal Listening
The listener’s focus is on themselves and their own thoughts rather than the speaker. You may observe intermittent eye contact, sometimes they look away or distracted. Their eyes may glaze over, they may interrupt you or respond with comments about themselves and their fantastic weekend!
2 Listening to Understand
The listener is focused on words and body language of the other party. Their responses suggest they’re listening – “yes, I see, tell me more ….” Their eye contact is good, their body language is positive, they may even lean in to listen. Their emotions match the person speaking e.g. smiling or looking concerned.
At Level 2, we are more focused on the other person’s response, we nod, we ask further questions because we are interested in what they are saying and want to hear more. But we still have some focus on ourselves, perhaps framing the next question while the other person is talking to us. We all have done that.
3 Global Listening
At Level 3 we listen at a different level and intensity. It is the
highest level of listening. Have you ever participated in an interview
panel for a day’s interviewing? How did you feel? Exhausted! You were
listening at level 3 – total focus on the other person, their response,
their body language, what they did not say.
When practicing global listening, the listener is focused on the
speaker and picks up more than what is being said. They pick up on
emotion, energy as well as what the person isn’t saying. They have good
eye contact, positive body language and matching emotions. Their
responses that suggest they’re really listening include …. ‘you seem so
energised when you talk about that … you seem to feel very strongly
about that …. you haven’t mentioned the impact of that on your work and
the team – is there a reason for that?”
The listener responds at the appropriate time and allows time for reflection where required.
What else can we do to improve our listening skills? Here are a few tips to practise.
- Listen to really understand.
- Ask deeper questions.
- Avoid interrupting the other person.
- Observe verbal cues.
- Train your mind not to distracted.
- Withhold judgement when listening.
- Don’t fear silence by resisting the desire to fill the space with words.
- Summarise back to the other party what you have heard or what you have understood.
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