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How many times have you been in a discussion when you’re asked a question after your mind has drifted off? This is a “deer in headlights” moment, you’ve been caught out not paying attention. I’m certainly guilty of this – listening can be hard work! You could even say it’s an art, as it takes practice to not only continue paying attention but also reacting to what you’re hearing in the best way.

The HBR post What Great Listeners Actually Do saying listening skills are much more than simply not taking while others are speaking, nodding regularly, and being able to repeat what someone has just said.

There are difference levels of listening, as the post says, and to fully committing to every conversation isn’t realistic, but for me one-on-ones are were we need to be be engaged with the person we’re speaking with. I believe that all the levels covered below should be in play with one-on-ones, I’ve put the levels directly from the post as they include some important points:

Level 1: The listener creates a safe environment in which difficult, complex, or emotional issues can be discussed.

Level 2: The listener clears away distractions like phones and laptops, focusing attention on the other person and making appropriate eye-contact. (This behavior not only affects how you are perceived as the listener; it immediately influences the listener’s own attitudes and inner feelings. Acting the part changes how you feel inside. This in turn makes you a better listener.)

Level 3: The listener seeks to understand the substance of what the other person is saying. They capture ideas, ask questions, and restate issues to confirm that their understanding is correct.

Level 4: The listener observes nonbverbal cues, such as facial expressions, perspiration, respiration rates, gestures, posture, and numerous other subtle body language signals. It is estimated that 80% of what we communicate comes from these signals. It sounds strange to some, but you listen with your eyes as well as your ears.

Level 5: The listener increasingly understands the other person’s emotions and feelings about the topic at hand, and identifies and acknowledges them. The listener empathizes with and validates those feelings in a supportive, nonjudgmental way.

Level 6: The listener asks questions that clarify assumptions the other person holds and helps the other person to see the issue in a new light. This could include the listener injecting some thoughts and ideas about the topic that could be useful to the other person. However, good listeners never highjack the conversation so that they or their issues become the subject of the discussion.

There is a big difference between listening and understanding, one-on-ones are a time when we need to be committed to the conversation and observing cues that we’re given. This is not easy – it’s a challenge! We owe our focus to each person on the team because they are important. It’s not about just spending time in a room with them making sure you get your questions out, they need to be heard and know that they have someone who cares about what they have to say.

By responding in a way helps them see a situation in a different light or influencing their thoughts to see other options is part of mentoring. We are mentoring them with our responses. Using our experience individuals can learn through the conversations, which is why there is so much more to just listening.

We hope those who labor under an illusion of superiority about their listening skills will see where they really stand.

Listening is a skill that’s often taken for granted, many would feel it’s an area they don’t need to work on because it could be considered basic. Being a truly good listener does help strengthen relationships and builds trust, but it takes some humility to accept that listening is a skill that needs attention.

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