Is Anyone Really Listening?
How well do you listen? I mean really listen? You might think you are listening when people talk but how often are you thinking about something else, like what you need from the supermarket on the way home or your increasing to-do list. Our lives are so busy, it’s easy to get lost in the myriad of stuff that demands our attention. With smartphones, it’s easier to send a quick message than to have a conversation. Listening helps us to build relationships, feel valued and solve problems.
Deep listening isn’t easy. It’s a skill that needs practice. In his book ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ Stephen Covey describes one of his habits as ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood’ which requires you to put your own agenda to one side and really listen with intent.
There are 5 levels of listening:
Level 1 is pretending to listen. This is where we tend to be thinking about all the other stuff going on in our heads and just making the right nods here and there. We’ve all been there. Remembering we forgot to get something out of the freezer to defrost for tea, wondering what time we need to pick the kids up from football, dancing or drama club.
Level 2 is about waiting for your turn to speak. You may be able to relate to the person’s story and want to share your experiences. If they are talking about a holiday destination for example and you’ve been to the same place, you may just wait for a gap in the conversation, so you can start talking about the time you went there.
Level 3 is selective listening. Here you want to give advice and tell the other person what you would do if you were in their situation. You’re only listening to what you want to hear. Level 3 is still very much about your agenda, not theirs. You are thinking about what you want to say next.
Level 4 is active listening. At this level, you are only just starting to really listen without focusing on how the conversation relates to you. So, you may start to ask more open questions at this level to understand what the other person is saying.
Level 5 is intuitive listening. It is only when you get to this level that you are truly putting aside your own agenda to really listen. Here, you put yourself completely in their shoes. At this level you will hear as much from what is not being said as from the words they are using.
It takes a lot of effort and practice. It’s easy to say we’re busy, often multi-tasking to juggle work, family-time, seeing friends and life admin. Smartphones have revolutionised the way we live, connect and work but we’ve forgotten how to have meaningful conversations.
How do we learn to listen at level 5? Be more curious about other people’s thoughts and opinions. Ask open questions and listen without judgement. Don’t impose your solutions on people. Put your phone away and give people your undivided attention. Remember that words convey only a fraction of the message. If you’re distracted by your phone, you won’t pick up on body language cues. Listen between the lines. One of the best gifts you can give to someone is your attention so practice giving it.
At work, don’t always be the first to speak in meetings. If you are a senior leader, people will listen to you and go along with your opinions. By letting this happen, you are missing out on a whole range of thoughts and ideas that could impact on the services your team provides. If someone asks to talk to you, make the time to genuinely listen. Find out how people are. Ask questions and pay attention to the answers. Summarise back to the person what you are hearing to make sure you’ve understood correctly.
The bottom line is talk less, listen more. You will be surprised at how much people appreciate the fact that they are actually being listened to.
The Delvers are accredited coaches who can help you reflect on the impact of your communication style and support you in finding ways to make more time to genuinely listen. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org for a meaningful conversation.