“Listen more than you talk. Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak.” Richard Branson.
WE’VE ALL HEARD THE EXPRESSION ‘KNOWLEDGE IS POWER’, BUT CONSIDER THE MAXIM ‘LISTENING IS POWER’ – THERE IS NO KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT LISTENING.
Thanks to ilume who I trained with last year, and Tim Parkman for this free guide to excellent listening skills, the foundation to business growth and success.
Listening is how we acquire the facts that lead to good decisions. It can also build trust, reduce conflict and improve morale. If you introduce strategies to make your people better listeners, better business can only follow. At Ilume we know a lot about listening. It’s something we practice to the highest level each day. Drawing from our knowledge and experience, as well as recent research and insights from listening experts, we’ve assembled seven powerful pointers on listening.
1. RECOGNISE WHAT LEVEL OF LISTENING YOU ARE AT
Here at ilume we recognise that there are 4 stages of listening:
HEARING This is the most superficial listening level, and it’s not really listening at all. Hearing registers the sound waves of the other person’s voice, but nothing’s getting through to you. You can hear someone talk and be thinking of something else, or even doing something else. When sitting at the breakfast table reading the paper you might hear the “chatter” around you but not really take it in. Think of the conversations you zone out of, and then a question is asked and you are trying to madly jump back in.
SELECTIVE LISTENING You’re listening with a story in mind – ‘what does this mean to me?”. When you listen to someone at this level, you’re trying to link their experiences to your own. What they say will trigger your memories. This level of listening is often employed in day-to-day conversations, particularly when stories are shared back and forth.
ATTENTIVE LISTENING At this level you’re specifically listening for something in what the speaker is saying, and you’re thinking and acting in ways that connect you with the speaker. This level of listening happens naturally when you’re very interested in what the speaker’s saying. Think about times when you are building a relationship with someone new and wanting to build on information, and connect in the best possible way.
CONSCIOUS LISTENING The deepest level of listening, conscious listening is also called ‘empathic listening’. You’re keeping yourself out of the way and listening with the minimum of judgement. There is almost no internal dialogue. At this level, you’re in the best position to understand and feel what the speaker is saying, and this level is often employed when you are dedicated to a totally open mind and perspective, controlling your attention and making people feel like they are the only person in the room.
2. USE CONSCIOUS LISTENING AS YOUR KEY BUSINESS TOOL
For business, the primary benefit of conscious listening is building stronger interpersonal connections, which can lead to getting a ‘yes’ when you need it. When people can see and feel that you truly understand them, and that you’re not passing judgement, they feel respected – and they’ll respect you in turn. In his white paper ‘Active listening’, James Clawson, Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia, likens conscious listening to a ‘magic wand’ – a hugely effective asset for business transformation. His tips for conscious listening include:
• Suspending judgement of the speaker
• Focusing on emotion as well as content
• Following, not leading, the conversation
• Accurately reflecting back to the speaker what you understand
Apart from improving your relationship with the speaker, conscious listening allows you to learn and grow. Unless we absorb other people’s opinions, experiences and knowledge, we’re doomed to get stuck in a thinking rut.
3. TURN OFF LISTENING BLIND SPOTS
Real-world ‘power influencers’ Mark Goulston and John Ullmen say we all have blind spots in our brains that distort our ability to listen without judgement. Our own needs, biases, experiences and agenda get in the way of truly understanding what the speaker is trying to express. To listen beyond your blind spot – even when you find it difficult to concur with the speaker – you need to be able to temporarily turn your own beliefs off.
eg If you’re listening to a proponent of public transport who wants to axe company cars, but you’re an avid motorist who detests bus rides, your blind spot makes you less inclined to appreciate the speaker’s points. You’re not consciously listening, because your brain is too busy actively assembling an argument against public transport to defend your driving agenda.
4. TWO EARS, ONE MOUTH
So use them in that order. When you dominate conversations and interrupt often, it’s easy to make the other person feel unimportant. Your ears will always be a more effective tool than your mouth, especially if you’re a manager trying to win the cooperation and commitment of an employee. By saying less, using effective listening skills and asking open questions, leaders have the power to raise the motivation to work effectively.
In his article ‘Motivating Employees by Using Effective Listening Skills’, author Brian Tracy talks about holding staff meetings where everybody gets airtime. He learned to do this because his previous approach had been to use staff meetings as an opportunity to hold forth with his ‘fascinating ideas, opinions and advice’. It eventually dawned on him that he was abusing his leadership position, wasting the time of his employees and diminishing their passion for work. David Staffer’s article ‘Yo, Listen Up’ in Harvard Management Update paints a portrait of the manager as a good listener: • You’re looking at the talker, asking probing questions and giving him or her more than enough time to answer. • You’re clearly communicating the importance of every word you hear by taking notes, leaning toward the talker and nodding to show you understand. Ask yourself: Are you leading by listening? Or are you holding forth, determined to speak your own truth?
5. RESIST FORMULATING AND SPOUTING A SOLUTION
Thinking about solutions is a mistake that many of us make while listening to somebody else’s challenges. It’s essentially multi-tasking, because instead of simply focusing on what the other person is saying and feeling, you’re trying to come up with answers. Leadership guru Peter Bregman says problem solving to make people feel better can have the opposite effect. It can even lead to an argument: He goes on to say that “sometimes, just listening is problem-solving”. eg If you’re listening to a proponent of public transport who wants to axe company cars, but you’re an avid motorist who detests bus rides, your blind spot makes you less inclined to appreciate the speaker’s points. You’re not consciously listening, because your brain is too busy actively assembling an argument against public transport to defend your driving agenda. “ Most of the time when we try to make people feel better, we end up arguing with them because we’re contradicting what they’re feeling. Which, inevitably, makes them feel worse.”
As a listener, remember that your objective is to understand and empathise, not to fix. By being allowed to express themselves without input or judgment, the speaker is often working towards a solution.
6. KNOW THAT BETTER TIME MANAGEMENT MAKES LEADERS AND MANAGERS BETTER LISTENERS
Quoted in a Harvard Business School newsletter, sales training guru Bill Brooks says the most overlooked reason for poor listening is poor time management. People simply don’t take time to receive and understand messages. He goes on to say that many who don’t open their receptors are stuck in an ‘activity trap’. Their immediate tasks, however trivial, are stopping them from paying attention. And the worst thing about this is that the stress generated by poor time management means that “people will listen mainly to their own voice” – the one that’s whinging constantly about having too much to do. This nugget of wisdom suggests that one answer to improving listening skills within your team is to provide them with time management coaching. It’s a lateral approach that’s likely to have many other positive spinoffs for your business.
7. QUALITY LISTENING COACHING DELIVERS QUICK PAYBACK
An increasing number of enterprises have recognised that excellent listening skills are foundational to business growth and success. At every level of an organisation an investment in listening coaching can result in better interpersonal relationships, both internally and externally, which has a flow-on effect all the way to an improved bottom line. Think about it this way: if you deliver effective listening coaching before a conference or any other kind of training or development, all the learning that comes after will be better-absorbed. That’s a quick payback.
At Ilume, our specialty is designing and delivering effective executive coaching and development of senior leaders. More than 20 years of experience in Australia and New Zealand has given us the ability to deliver listening coaching that sticks. We also offer accredited training programmes that would enable you to develop your own listening coaches. [email protected] Level 6, Rabobank Tower,