Listening. It is something we do all day everyday. But let me ask you, how well do you really listen when you are talking with someone? Did you know that there are 4 levels of listening? In fact when researching this post I found over 20 types of listening but for the sake of your time, I will focus on the core ones…
Non-listening: when you are physically present but your mind is not. You miss what the person is saying as your mind is elsewhere.
Passive listening: when you are both physically and mentally present, but you get distracted in your thoughts, possibly unrelated to the conversation at hand (you start thinking about something that happened earlier or something of concern).
Evaluative listening: when you are engaged in the conversation and present but interrupt with your ideas and thoughts that you would like to share. As the other person is talking you start formulating what you are going to say next, thus not completely listening to them.
Active listening: here you are completely present with the other person. Your thoughts are “switched off” and all you are focused on is what they are saying. Furthermore, you are picking up on cues such as their body language and tone of voice and being able to read between.
When was the last time when you were in active listening mode? It is a skill that requires practice and self-awareness. We need to be completely present in order to actively listen to someone else.
This has been a topic of interest for a while but more recently I have been asking my clients about their listening skills and how they would rate them. Firstly, Sarah commented saying that listening was one of the most important skills in both her business and personal life. She felt that if she really listened to her customers then she could best serve them. Furthermore, from a customer service perspective she believed that it is essential for the customer to be heard in order to resolve the problem and retain that customer. It came down to the customer feeling that they were heard and importantly, understood.
Tarryn, said that she thought she was good listener until I explained the 4 levels and quietly admitted that she was probably in the evaluative stage of listening most of the time.
Truth is many of us (myself included) will float between evaluative and passive listening whether we admit it or not. We have lots going on and our minds often don’t stop. However there are many benefits to active listening. You are able to truly hear what the other person is saying or conversely be heard (and how good does that feel?), we remember more of the detail of the conversation, the conversation is more meaningful and our relationship with that person is deeper.
To build your active listening skills here are some tips to strengthen that muscle:
1. Be present. Be completely in the moment with that person/ people. When you feel your mind wondering bring it back to the moment you are in. Essentially you are practicing mindfulness.
2. Switch off. Turn off your mobile phone and any other possible distractions. Ideally if you can switch of your brain to focus and be in the moment, but that can be hard, so refer to point 1.
3. Be aware of the cues. It’s not just what they are saying (i.e. the words) but how they say it. Meaning, what is their tone of voice like? What is their body language telling you? Communication is multi-layered and reading people is important.
4. Shorter meetings. We can’t hold our attention for hours on end. In fact the brain works in 45 minute cycles (on average), so try to have shorter meetings of 30-45 minutes where possible to maximise your brain time.
5. 2 ears 1 mouth. Clichéd but true – use it as a reminder that we have more ears to listen with and only 1 mouth to talk with…
6. Mindfulness meditation. This is a great technique to train your mind to focus on one thing at a time.
So today, in your next conversation after reading this, start practicing your active listening skills. Really be present. Watch and listen for the cues. What are they really saying? And reflect afterwards on the conversation. Was it more effective, more meaningful?
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Please share with us, how does it feel when you are really heard?