How to be a better listener, at work and at home (video transcript)

Why are we so terrible at listening to one another?

Very often I am called in to help a team that’s in crisis, and the issue stems from the fact that no one’s been listening to one another. You wouldn’t believe how often poor listening is the root of poor productivity, hurt feelings and conflict in teams.

Listening is something critical to all great relationships. Indeed, everything that you learn to apply at work you can absolutely apply at home.

In today’s article we’ll explore what’s getting in the way of great listening, and create a new model based on three levels that you can build to make you the best listener around.

1a. Listening physically

Listening physically relates to how much of a message we are taking in. The first thing we have to do, if we are to take in all of what someone is communicating is to listen well with our ears. It may seem obvious but it’s amazing how often we don’t actually listen well with our ears.

For example: you’re in a meeting and someone’s whispering in one ear, and you pretend to listen with the other. Guess what? That doesn’t really work. Essentially you’re not listening to either one of them, or at least you’re having to make a choice,

Likewise, if something else is going on in the background like a video playing, that’s not going to work. You can’t pay attention to two things at once. So make sure that you’re actually listening with your ears.

1b. Listening with your body

For some of us, listening with your body means making eye contact with the person who’s talking. But for some people, making eye contact is uncomfortable, and in some situations it’s not even possible.

Whether it is with your eyes or through some other way, it’s important to show the person physically that you are listening to them.

For example, if you’re in the back seat of a car, can you lean in or orient your shoulders toward the person in the front seat who’s talking? On a Zoom call, is your webcam aligned with your display?

If you’re not showing that you’re listening with your body, people will think you’re not listening at all. As such, make sure you move your body in a way that says “I’m attending to you”.

1c. Listening with an open mind

It’s also very important to listen with an open mind. Are you showing that you are interested and curious about what the person has to say?

When I see people in a meeting sat with their hand up, all it does is make me think is that they’re more interested in what they’re thinking then what the person speaking is saying.

Another way we show that we’re not listening with an open mind is starting a sentence with “but”. This sends a signal to everyone around that you weren’t actually listening with an open mind.

2a. Distractions from meaning and intent

The next set of listening blocks are about things that get in the way of us extracting all the meaning and all the intent that someone’s trying to convey to us.

There is a lot to process in terms of facts and information when people communicate in the workplace, and it can be easy to miss vital information.

One of the ways you can demonstrate that you’re listening well is to jot a few notes down, and ask them to repeat things if you miss something. This indicates to the person speaking that you’re endeavoring to absorb all the pertinent information they are conveying

2b. Listening for feelings and emotions

The facts and information are only the most superficial layer. You also need to ensure you are listening for the person’s feelings and emotions, because if you miss those things you will never create a strong connection or make the person feel like you’re an ally that they can problem solve with.

Feelings and emotions can be heard in the words people choose. As people get more emotional, they tend to add more absolutes like “you always” or “you never” or “everybody”. This is a good signal that the person is starting to feel very hot about the issue.

You can also listen out for less objective language, where there are fewer nouns and verbs and more adjectives. This gives you the sense that there are some feelings being triggered.

Listening for those things and even expressing that you understand their frustration is a great way to tell the person you don’t just care about the facts and information, but you care about how they’re experiencing this situation.

2c. Listening for values and beliefs

Going even deeper than feelings and emotions, it is important to identify the values and beliefs behind the words.

We’ve all heard of reading between the lines, but in this case we’re talking about listening between the lines.

What you’re listening for is what is important to the other person that is being violated here. What are they protecting or defending against? If you can get to that level, that’s where you’re going to solve fights.

3a. Avoid listening to the voice inside your head

The third and final level where there are so many listening blocks are not about the other person, these are all about you. These are the things that happen when we start listening to the voice inside our heads, instead of listening to the person who’s talking.

An example of this would be where as we’re listening or pretending to listen to someone, we begin judging them. We start to judge the person and as we judge them, we aren’t listening to them at all but rather our own internal monologue.

This could also take the form of thinking defensively when listening. We spend our energy listening to our own story about why we aren’t to blame in this situation. If you’re doing that, you aren’t listening to the other person at all.

The final scenario is listening to our inner voice as it starts to empathize or identify. Of course, as soon as you do that you are listening to yourself, not to them. You’re projecting your experiences on to them.

Your experiences are likely not exactly the same. If you’re identifying and emphasizing inaccurately, the person will feel just as misunderstood as if you were judging or defending against them.

The things that lead to quality listening are having open ears or open body language, and listening with an open mind. In addition, remaining alert to the feelings and emotions or the values and beliefs that are being conveyed in speech, rather than getting wrapped up in our own narrative, results in effective listening.

When you work on listening in these nine ways, you will find you become a much more respected teammate, because people know when they come to you, you really listen. You will find that this listening skill-set will be one of the best you develop in your entire career.

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