Reflect on the conversations that you’ve had this week. Whilst you were talking, did you get a sense that the other person was truly absorbed in what you were saying? Or did you feel this person was simply waiting for you to finish, so that he or she could then get their point across?
If it was the latter, you may have felt slightly disappointed or frustrated. With the former, you probably enjoyed the exchange, satisfied with the feeling that you had been fully heard and seen – in this instance, you’ve been in the presence of a skilled listener.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.”
– Stephen R. Covey
Benefits of listening
Most people think they are good listeners but, in reality, few of us are – listening is a skill that seems much easier to do than it actually is. It’s the foundation of effective communication, because listening raises awareness (therefore increasing knowledge), and builds affinity (which encourages people to receive your messages unguarded). In short, superb communicators are superb listeners.
Listening is also a cornerstone of great leadership. Leaders who don’t listen well, don’t lead well…would you voluntarily follow someone if that person didn’t make you feel acknowledged, and therefore appreciated?
There are two levels of listening. Level 1 is relating the conversation to “ME” and “MY experiences, and level 2 is relating it to “THEM” and “THEIR” experiences.
When using level 1 listening during a conversation, we notice everything that’s happening within our internal world, such as how the conversation is affecting us, our thoughts and feelings, and the opinions and reactions which are being evoked. We also plan what we’re going to say next, as well as experiencing random thoughts like, “What shall I have for dinner later?”
Now and then, it is useful to employ level 1 listening, as it helps us to avoid impulsive reactions. But if this is the only kind of listening we are utilising during a conversation, others will not feel fully recognised, perhaps concluding that we’re not genuinely interested in what they have to say.
In contrast, we focus one hundred percent of our attention on the other person when applying level 2 listening. This give us a meticulous awareness of what they are saying and how they are saying it, and we instinctively notice their eye movements, facial expressions, postures, breathing patterns, and other essential non-verbal cues.
In essence, level 2 listening is the skill of being fully absorbed by the person in front of you. Of course, this doesn’t mean that level 1 thoughts never enter your mind – if they didn’t, this would be unnatural. Rather, the skill of level 1 listening is about quietly noting them, and then setting them aside to keep your curiosity on the other person. It’s ‘being in the moment’ thinking.
Becoming a level 2 listener
To become a skilled listener, which in turn helps you become a skilled communicator, it’s important that you allow the discussion to develop organically, without the need to control or steer it in a particular direction.
For this to occur requires faith, humility, and practice. Faith because you need to trust that you’ll have something to say when it’s your time to speak. Humility so that you can let go of the need to appear smart or know the right answer. And practice…like every other skill, your ability to utilise level 2 listening improves the more that you do it.
So to get you on the path of listening mastery, bear in mind these summary points…
- Stay in the moment.
- Don’t plan ahead.
- Trust you’ll have something to say…
- …and if you don’t, don’t worry.
- Liberate yourself from the need to look intelligent.
- Practice it like any other skill.
We started with a quote, so perhaps it’s apt to finish with one…
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
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