In a world competing to be heard, our real power is in listening

Authentically Being News   •   June 29, 2020

How well do you listen? The art of listening sounds simple enough right? After all, we spend all day listening; to our colleagues, to our clients, to our friends, to our partners, to our children, the list is endless. But are we listening well?

Are you really hearing what your colleague says or are you still tapping at your keyboard? Are you really hearing the story your partner tells you whilst clearing the dinner or are you distracted? Are you really listening to your clients across the table or are you desperately grappling with how you’re going to respond?

If you’ve just checked yourself and thought that’s you, it’s okay, it’s most of us. We’ve been conditioned from a young age to have transactional conversations. To respond in the right way and have the correct answers, to make yourself look good and to “win” the conversation. Listening is just one of the things we try to fit in on top of the busy lives we lead with 101 things to do.

So why is there power in listening? Well let’s start at an organisational level, research papers such as the IABC Listening Project Report, 2019 suggests that benefits include competitive advantages, engagement, diversity, advocacy, innovation, resilience, learning and wellbeing within organisations.

On an individual level, people want to be heard, people want to know that someone values them enough to listen and maybe (but absolutely not always) take action. How many times have you felt better just because someone was willing to allow you to share your thoughts without judgement, without advising, without making it about them?

For the listener, surely we need to understand something or someone fully before trying to provide them with the answers?

We are all well versed in being able to listen to respond but how do we shift into a paradigm of listening to understand? Stephen Covey author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People concentrates on this in Habit 5; Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

If you think you might need to brush up on your listening skills here are 5 tips that will help you towards becoming an even better listener:

1.    Drop the Ego

Empathic listening isn’t about you, it’s about them. What you have experienced in the past has nothing to do with the current situation the person feels they are in. Stop thinking about making yourself look good with your answers and be there in the moment absorbing the words, the body language, the subtle and sometimes hidden messages. Give your full attention to the speaker.

2.    Invest the time

Listening takes time, but the investment is worth it. How many times have you seen or experienced moving forward with something that wasn’t really understood to only have to go back and do double the work actually fixing misunderstood decision making? If you are a busy person schedule out times where you can put your laptop down and be there to listen.

3.    Hold and respect silence

Many people find it awkward sitting in silence, but silence means thinking. When you are really trying to understand someone, give that person the space and silence to articulate what they are about to say. If it is important and means a lot, there will be a vulnerability that needs to be shown and that can take a moment to surface.

4.    Practice

Many of us overestimate our listening skills, we have instead become masters at pretending to listen and rarely check ourselves. Make a conscious effort to listen, to understand, to be comfortable with not having to be heard yourself, to be non-judgemental. You’ll be amazed at what you discover by truly listening.

5.    Be authentic

Be genuine, if you provide the space for someone to open up, don’t abuse that trust. If you have initiated the discussion be clear on what you are going to use that information for. Don’t empathise with someone and make them feel heard and safe to speak to you just to go and use or that information against them further down the line.

I hope these tips help you in some way and if you feel you would like more information on the power of listening please get in touch.

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