Do you really listen to others?
Why is listening so important? – Listening is one of the ways in which we show that we respect someone. We show that we care enough about them to really listen to them. They might be talking about their successes, their challenges, their hopes or their fears. Whatever they talk about they will value being listened to. In today's climate many people will be concerned about the future, and perhaps even feel helpless in the face of such big global issues. Listening to them can help them to identify what is within their control and what action they can take.
Sometimes we are good at listening to some people or in certain situations but not others.
Who are you good at listening to? Your family, team members, manager, customers?
Who else could benefit from being listened to properly?
Listening Vs Hearing – in my training manuals, in the section on listening skills, I have the following quotes:
‘It is so long since most of us began to listen that we probably regard it as a natural skill, yet observations of babies, and of managers, show that it is hearing which is natural and listening is not.'
‘We hear with our senses but listen with our minds.'
I have a book called Listening: the forgotten skill (Madelyn Burley-Allen, Associated Press), a title that sums it up for me. Listening is a skill, which like any skill can be developed further with focussed practice. There are many different levels of listening and ways of going about it that can be learned. So even if you think you are not very good at listening you can improve your abilities in this area.
What blocks your listening? – One of the ways of improving our listening is to be aware of the blocks that might stop us from listening effectively. Which of the following do you fall foul of?
‘On-off' listening: We tend to think 3 to 5 times faster than someone can speak. Therefore, we have about ¾ of a minute of ‘spare' thinking time in each minute.
Your mind wanders off on tangents, often completely unrelated to what is being discussed. You lose the thread of what is being said. This makes it hard to maintain rapport, to show that you understand what the person is saying or how they are feeling.
Red flag words: Reacting to words or phrases with an emotional meaning for you. They are like a ‘red flag to a bull' and when you hear them your mind goes off on its own journey.
This stops you listening and betrays your prejudices. Think about any red flag words or phrases that you have.
Eureka listening: Assuming too quickly that you know what the problem is.
This may lead you to interrupt with a premature summary or even a solution when you might have wrongly identified the source of the problem. This may stop you from listening further or probing for more information as you think that the issue is now crystal clear.
Embarrassed listening: Showing signs that you are not comfortable with the situation or what is being discussed. For example, shifting gaze or posture, not tolerating pauses, silences or a show of emotion.
The speaker will pick up on your discomfort and feel awkward too. They may well ‘clam-up'.
Pencil listening: Taking copious notes so you end up still noting down one point when the person has long moved on.
You lose the thread of the conversation and rapport, as it is difficult to watch and respond to non-verbal cues and send listening cues when you are taking notes.
Ways to improve your listening – Here are a few things to bear in mind when improving your ability to listen.
- Allow the individual to express their emotions - If someone is feeling upset, frustrated, angry, hurt, they need to get this off their chest before they can look logically at the situation. They need a bit of nurturing and supportive listening, rather than someone being logical and calm at that stage.
- Just listen – Recently a manager said that they feel a bit helpless and that they should do more than listen. However they also commented that when staff have got something off their chest, they usually say they feel much better – even though the manager has not done anything but listen. See the quote at the bottom of the right hand column, which nicely sums this up.
- Be aware of your mood while you listen – ask yourself, are you in the best possible mood to listen right now? If not, is it possible to delay the conversation until you have time and space to really pay attention or do something to change your state of mind and mood?
- Let go of feeling that you have got to solve the problem for them - I've had two telephone conversations today with individuals facing hugely difficult situations in their lives, of which I (or even they) can do nothing about. But I can listen, I can be there for them just so they feel heard and supported
- Ask questions to help them get to the ‘eureka moment' - If they are looking to solve a problem it will be more empowering if you ask questions to help them identify possible solutions, rather than trying to offer advice or solve the problem for them. When they have the ‘eureka moment' and realise what they need to do, they are more likely to follow through with taking action.
Do you want to chat about this further? Then call Melanie on 01865 377334 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a time to speak in confidence or visit our website: http://www.grovelands.org.uk/