Listening is one of the most UNDERRATED skills there is and it winds me up that we are not taught how to do it better at a younger age.
Excellent listening is the foundation of any business that is built on relationships. Learn to listen powerfully, and it will transform how you connect with people.
Below is my quick guide to becoming a better listener.
The three levels of listening
Level 1: ‘Internal listening’ aka Listening to Speak
Most of us start here and remain here unless we are intentional about developing our listening skills. At this level, we are not really listening to others when they talk, rather, while they are speaking we are mostly just thinking about the next thing we want to say. This is the lowest level of listening and pretty much just comes naturally. Listening to speak has the most potential to create misunderstandings and often causes us to miss key information in conversations.
Level 2: ‘Focussed listening’ aka Listening to Hear
Most of us can get here in select situations if we are motivated. At this level we are actively paying attention to what the other person is saying. We are not thinking about what we want to say next or distracted by other things, we are totally focused on the other person. A good example of listening to hear that most of us can relate to is when we are on a first date with a love interest; we tend to listen intently to their every word. The reason why we are able to do this in some situations but not in all is because our motivation to listen waxes and wanes depending on who we are with. If we truly want to become great listeners — and it will serve us well to do so — we have to motivate ourselves to listen intently to every person, not just some.
Level 3: ‘Global listening’ aka Listening to Understand
This is the highest level of listening and few of us can get here without intentional practice. At this level we are not only paying attention to what others are saying, but also what they mean. People say things all the time but often fail to convey the underlying feelings or thoughts behind their words. In global listening we use all our senses (including our intuition) to hear what’s not being said as well as what is.
How to become a great listener: exercise
Practice practice practice! Theory is only half the job, we need to practice doing it!
Exercise: Ask a friend to talk about a subject for 10minutes uninterrupted (e.g. their favourite holiday, or answering the question ‘how are you?). You, as the listener, cannot talk for ten minutes. You can smile, nod, make encouraging noises but not talk. If there is silence, hold it until the speaker either fills it or the ten minutes are up.
At the end of the ten minutes discuss how you found the experience and then swop over.
Speaker: How was the experience of speaking for ten minutes uninterrupted? How listened too did you feel? What did you learn?
Listener: How hard was it to listen for ten minutes without being able to speak? How well did you listen? What were the main themes of what the speaker shared? What did you notice about the speakers body language/tone of voice in relation to what they were saying? What did you learn from the experience?
This is simple but powerful exercise. Commit to it, and see the difference it makes.