How much time have you spent developing your listening skills?
Think about the time we spend learning how to read, how to write and how to speak, the basic pillars of communication, vs how much time is given to listening, there’s a significant gap.
When we ask our candidates what they’re looking for in their next job, they frequently answer growth. I ask them, “What does that mean to you?” and hear things like:
- My manager is available to me to ask questions and get answers.
- I have a mentor who listens to my goals and helps me to achieve them.
- The team discusses issues and provides support to each other.
- There are onboarding resources and people who help me engage more quickly.
- There is ongoing training.
Listening is key for each of these aspirations.
Stephen Covey is famous for the philosophy of, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
To understand another, you must listen to them.
Covey suggests that we are filled with our own rightness and collective monologues. When another person speaks, we typically listen at one of four levels. Covey breaks down these different levels of listening:
Level 1: Ignoring (What parents sometimes do)
Level 2: Pretending to Listen (As a busy Manager, what you may do)
Level 3: Selective Listening (Choosing what you want to hear)
Level 4: Attentive Listening (Repeating back what you’ve heard) and then there is Level 5, Empathetic Listening (Sharing the emotions you’ve heard).
The 5th level is the highest level of listening. In empathetic listening, you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behavior. You use your right brain as well as your left.
I’ve also noticed a recent trend where candidates are choosing to leave inside sales jobs where all their interactions are by phone and computer, for outside sales where they meet in person with prospects and customers. With the latter, it’s easier to use the highest level of listening.
Imagine how many times, in work, or life we have had conversations where we just don’t seem to be getting through, we don’t seem to be heard, understood, or validated. We all know how frustrating this can be. Then imagine how much more effective we could be by practicing empathetic listening. Working on this small but significant skill could be transformative, leading to better relationships, team engagement, loyalty, and performance.
What can we do to practice better listening?
Here are ways you can get started to improve your listening skills:
- Clear your mind before starting a conversation, put down your phone, turn away from your computer, or other distractions.
- Make time.
- Listen with your ears and your heart and without judging.
- Avoid interrupting, or cutting off someone’s sentence before they finish speaking.
- Give people time to think, don’t be too eager to rush in when there are moments of silence. This is a tool that savvy salespeople use when trying to understand a customer’s needs.
- Clarify or ensure you understood what was said.
- Ask open-ended questions to understand feelings and perspectives.
- Refrain from giving advice if you are not asked for it, especially along with your autobiographical story.
- Remember you do not need to agree or feel the same to understand.
“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”
Karl A. Menniger, Psychiatrist