Do you listen well? How would you know? Really that is a judgement made by others. Listening is an act of generosity. This is a generosity that is not always evident.
What does it mean to listen well?
There are many well-known factors that contribute to effective listening. Forbes magazine suggests these:
- Maintain eye contact
- Be attentive but relaxed
- Keep an open mind
- Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying
- Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your solutions
- Wait for the speaker to pause, to pose clarifying questions
- Ask questions only to ensure understanding
- Try to feel what the speaker is feeling
- Give the speaker regular feedback
- Give attention to the unspoken, non-verbal cues
Listening is an act of generosity
Listening well requires a lot of generosity on the part of the listener. How so? It requires the listener to suspend their preferences and judgements and be open to the ideas being presented, without bias.
Listening is one of the hardest skills to master and requires uncovering deeper barriers within oneself
(Su & Wilkins, 2014).
These barriers can be uncovered by increasing your awareness of your own behaviour. The following are some considerations to take on board.
- Ignore your inner critic
When engaged in group situations like meetings or presentations, it is important not to get caught up in your own nerves or let your inner critic take precedence. This preoccupation will prevent your focus on other speakers, the questions they may pose and answers that may follow.Tip: Find a way to be fully focused on the speaker and their perspective. Be aware when this focus waivers.
- Consider your role as a listener
You need to know when to stop talking and start listing. Sometimes we are intent on providing solutions before someone has had the opportunity to fully express their situation. Generosity lies in allowing that person to express themselves without interruption. It is also about suspending judgement until all ideas have been presented.
Tip: When listening, close your mouth. You have two ears and one mouth. Try and listen twice as much as you speak.
- Be aware of your own triggers
Listening requires being “present” to the conversation you are part of. That means attending to what is being said and being aware and alert to things in the conversation that you react to. It is about staying with the conversation rather than anticipating what might happen before it does. This might happen in conversations with people that have a pattern to them, triggering habitual responses. You anticipate the way the conversation may go and rush to respond.Listening is especially important in difficult conversations. Multiple interests and agendas may be at play, leading to anticipated confrontation and a desire to avoid conflict. Defensiveness often kicks in and listening shuts down. When sensitive issues are the topics of conversation, full attention is needed. Often the person’s need to be heard defuses a situation, whereas cutting them off or offering solutions may inflame it.Tip: Take stock of your reactions in difficult conversations. Are your buttons being pressed? Be aware of what triggered this. Try and detach from the situation.
- Listen with confidence
Enter conversations with the confidence that solutions will be revealed. Consider that all parties can contribute. No one needs to try hard to convince the others of their confidence or ability to solve issues at hand. In so doing, not all perspectives are given an airing or due consideration. Providing a space where everyone can speak and be heard establishes confidence for all participants. Tip: Establish ground rules about each participant having air time. In meetings this may be timed so that contributions are fair and perspectives heard.
How’s your listening?
Do people say you are a good listener? Could you be a better listener? Perhaps try some of these ideas and see if they change anything for you.