How much are we learning while speaking? Probably not as much as when we are actively engaged in the listening process. Listening is not the time to pre-plan what you intend to say next. Listening is not waiting for your turn to speak. Listening is made up of much more than hearing. Effective listening communication looks like a supportive atmosphere of trust that is built on non-judgment. Listening = learning + interacting + the following 6:
1. Listening from the Heart
Being open creates learning opportunities and builds rapport. Giving both of your ears to those that are speaking adds a tremendous amount of value to interactions. Others will express differing viewpoints – some of which may be absolutely offensive. Ask questions to enhance clarity. Ask if this is a vent. If so, listen without judging the content or their credibility on the subject matter. Hear their position. It gives them a sense of value. Avoid giving unsolicited advice. Knowing it’s not your job to fix their problems gives you complete freedom to listen from the heart, which will enhance your rapport with this person.
2. Listening with your Eyes
What are the non-verbals showing and telling? Good listeners watch if speakers’ facial expressions match their verbal output. Have you ever noticed someone telling you how much they enjoy something while their head is nodding from side to side? Did you believe them?
Does the speaker believe their own message? Is there congruence between their words and actions? Be careful to not judge the many factors causing a person to look down while they speak or avoid eye contact. These behaviors may signal they need space, to keep the exchange short, as the future may be a better time to make any decisions. They may not be at their best and signaling your support is needed. Many signs tell the listener how the speaker is actually feeling. This can help you show support. Much more may be going on than the verbal content.
3. Listening with your Mindful Self
Be fully present and in the moment when listening. Practicing mindfulness keeps you open to many nuances of conversation including asking thoughtful questions that are spontaneous and thought-provoking. Many a mind wanders in the last hour of work while wondering what to make for dinner: enjoy the interaction instead! Breathe deeply and settle in to actively listen and participate in their sharing process. Be careful to not audibly sigh, which can be interpreted as boredom. Speakers sensing your disengagement are likely to change what they wished to say and cut it short. You might miss out if you subconsciously control the interaction. Watch your own non-verbal cues too.
4. Listening with Creativity
Brainstorm up a storm of new ways of looking at the same issues. Break work groups into smaller sub-groups to reconfigure interpersonal dynamics, encouraging everyone’s contribution. Be the note-taker as the smaller groups report their ideas to the larger group. Establish an honor code that there are no bad ideas as some can be recombined or act as the catapult to the best ideas.
5. Listening with the Obstacles
Knowing what gets in your way names it. Then you can work around, or through it. Agreeing to disagree when it’s not possible or unnecessary to agree preserves the relationship. Preparing your points with potential objections and probing questions in mind makes you look unfazed by road blocks. Multi-tasking when distractions win out keeps up your momentum. Anticipating outcomes gives you a Plan A and B. Translating what you heard contextually as compared to what was said keeps the speaker moving forward. Forward onward!
6. Listening with Curiosity
Curiosity keeps your mind open to the message. As tempting as it can be to finish another’s sentences when you are in a hurry, slow down. The time invested in listening is a good investment. To approach listening with the curious perspective of not knowing what will be said next makes you a more enjoyable listening partner. It shuts the speaker down if you appear to know it already and that’s a bad relational investment. When you participate with interested facial expressions and a well-placed “oh?,, tell me about that…” you will learn something other than what you anticipated. Promise.. and that something may be about yourself.
Some ideas act as the seeds of other ideas. Like a seed that grows into a tree, communication is so much more than talking or listening planted on their own. Relationships are enhanced, and rapport is built as the power of synergy grows thoughtful exchanges in communication. The past is vast, and the future is even wider. Focusing on another person in the present moment of time is small and manageable — so make it meaningful! Lean into them.