LISTENING TO UNDERSTAND
Six ways to deeply listen & increase your understanding
Have you ever been in mid conversation with someone and then realised they are waiting for you to reply and you have no idea what they have just asked you? Your mind had wondered? While you are not fully listening, you will think about times that you can relate to, shared experiences, searching for how that feels, so you can empathise with the other person and in doing so jump in with what you want to say. We all do it. But this means that we have stopped listening to understand.
HERE ARE SIX WAYS TO LISTEN MORE DEEPLY: 1. Being aware.
Become aware of your communication style – reflect on your preferences in how you communicate, so that you can adapt your way of speaking and listening to honour others. Examples include:
• Do you prefer big picture or detail? At work, if your boss is giving you the big picture, but you want the detail, then you will not be fully listening but considering what else to ask, so that you can make even better sense of what you are being told.
• Do you speak literally or inferentially? When I say to my husband ‘the bin needs emptying’, I speak inferentially. My husband however is literal in his approach and requires me to say specifically what and when something is to be done.
• Which sense do you process information with (sight, sound, kinaesthetic feeling, smell, taste)? If I describe my holiday and in doing so talk about the sound of the sea, the different bird calls and you prefer visual processing, then you will not be listening to me, but creating your own images and story in your head. By understanding your own preferences, you can be alert to any differences and adjust your listening to understand.
2. Active listening.
Be intentional in your listening. Have your full focus on the other person and what they are saying (both verbally and non-verbally). Mindful listening is about being genuinely interested in the topic of conversation, without the intention to judge, correct or offer your views. Your intention is to hear and understand.
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. Steven Covey
You might demonstrate this by having appropriate eye contact, being face to face, putting down anything you were working on or holding, so that you can concentrate fully on the other person.
3. Encourage talking.
Encourage talking without interrupting using non-verbal prompts like smiling, nodding, retaining eye contact and with body language. Lean in towards the person to show interest. Avoid the temptation to interrupt or interject. Any interruption to flow can derail the persons thought and prevent them from finishing what they wished to share. Avoid completing sentences for them or jumping in with a story of your own. Show respect for the other person by letting them explain, explore, share until natural completion. Let them fully express themselves and then show that you have heard and understood. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give another person – and they will notice and be grateful for it.
4. Embrace difference in opinion.
It very likely at some point that you will be involved in conversation where you
disagree with some or all of what is expressed. Instead of seeing that as right and wrong, embrace the difference and value different perspectives. Get curious about how other people see the world. In practice this requires seeing a situation from anther persons perspective: walking in their shoes. A great question to ask is, ‘In what circumstances could this be true?’ Listen with an intention of understanding; caring for the other person and respecting their right to have their own views. There is a caveat to this – it is not about you putting yourself down or letting someone walk all over you. This is about mutual respect. If you are not being respected, or you feel unsafe in any way, you can politely stop the conversation and walk away.
5. Communication is more than words.
We talk about ‘Actions speak louder than words’. This is especially true of emotions. If there is a mismatch between words spoken and body language, people believe the body language. This is also true when listening. Be aware of your body language to ensure it is not showing any lack of interest.
6. Checking it out
To show that you have listened, it is a good idea to:
• Summarise back what you have heard, giving the person an opportunity to say, ‘that is not what I said’ or ‘that’s not what I meant’. • Ask a question to check that you heard correctly. This can be done at any point when there is a lull or pause, but never in mid-sentence or flow.
• This is not about having the last word – it is to respect the other person and show that you are actively listening to understand. It is impossible to enter a conversation without your own history, values and experiences. It’s natural to refer to what you already know, to understand what you have heard. By being aware of your own views and recognising when they are different from others, you can control your reaction and ensure you retain a respectful active listening stance. This means that you respect others enough to allow them to express themselves freely and that you care enough about them to listen. Dianne Shilling said in a Forbes Magazine article, ‘Genuine Listening has become a rare gift – the gift of time.’ One of the greatest gifts we can give another person is the time to listen. To let them know they are seen and heard and we are listening to understand.
Dr Suzanne Henwood is the Director and Lead Coach and Trainer of mBraining4Success. She is also the CEO of The Healthy Workplace and a Master Trainer and Master Coach of mBIT (Multiple Brain Integration Techniques) and can be contacted via her website.