Really listen, this will enable you to connect with others and influence effectively.
Most people are poor listeners
60% of communication time is spent listening and yet immediately after we recall only about 50% of what we heard and 2 days later that’s down to 25%. Have you communicated perfectly clearly, only to discover a few days later that the other person hasn’t done anything? Or, just talking to someone you sense they’re not listening to you?
… Yep, we’re lousy at listening.
Having said that, the research did find a gender difference. Women’s recall was 66% and men’s 49%. When you don’t listen, you get misunderstandings leading to a lack of respect and dysfunctional relationships. These can escalate over time and lead to conflict at work or divorce at home as people actively stop listening to each other. There’s huge potential for improvement in relationships and performance just from really listening.
Chances are you think you’re a good listener. People’s appraisal of their listening ability is much like their assessment of their driving skills – the vast majority of adults think they’re above average! Most people agree that listening effectively is a very important skill, but they don’t feel a strong need to improve their own skill level. The quality of two-way communication depends on you’re ability to listen. It’s time to invest in your listening skills.
Why is our listening so poor?
5 key factors are:
- The chatter in your head. Adult brains can process information at 400-800 words per minute, but we speak at about 125-150 words per minute, this leaves our brain looking for things to do and our thoughts wander.
- We’re constantly bombarded by noise. Open-plan workplaces are full of distracting noises – intermittent voices, background sounds, phones and other devices. Some people to wear headphones and listen to music to cut these noises out, but that is just as distracting.
- We’re taught to read and to interpret meaning from the words, but we’re not taught to listen and how to interpret the full message including the non-verbal information.
- It’s a fast-paced world and we’re impatient, wanting our information in sound-bites.
- We’ve become de-sensitised; for example, the media is SHOUTING at us with sensational headlines. Everyone is desperate to grab our attention, so it’s hard to pay attention to subtle information.
We’re so distracted that we’ve forgotten how to listen. See Julian Treasure’s TEDtalk on listening
Why bother to listen?
To a large degree, effective leadership is effective listening. A study in a large hospital found that listening explained 40% of the variance in leadership. Listening shows concern for others, fosters connections and cooperation and builds trust. When you listen to understand, you show empathy for the other person and you learn what makes them tick. They will be more likely to listen to you, allowing you to influence their thinking and motivate them to take action. Listening is essential for collaboration, creativity and joint problem-solving, whether that’s at work or home.
What is effective listening?
Many people think that good listening is to shut up and not interrupt, nodding and asking the odd probing question. This is just the first level of good listening and is not enough. Effective listeners know that their role is to help the speaker to resolve their issue, so they actively support the speaker. They reflect back their understanding in a non-judgmental way to help the speaker to gain clarity, but not respond defensively, and this builds the speaker’s self-esteem. They ask questions to help the speaker gain insights into the situation and to help create new possibilities and generate solutions.
A good listener is not like a sponge – just absorbing information, they are like trampoline – the speaker can bounce their ideas off them and gain energy.
Many people object that communication will take longer if they really listen to the other person, but in fact it’s so much more efficient. Instead of wasting time with misunderstandings and interruptions, you gain a shared understanding quickly and can then work together to deliver results. You can trust that the other person knows what they are doing, and they will deliver on their promises, so you waste no energy or time worrying about things out of your control. Listening helps both sides to gain clarity, energy and direction, surely that’s worth the focused attention?
Really good listening
The next time you have the opportunity really listen to the other person, follow these simple steps:
Show interest, put away your phone and create a safe space for the speaker to open up. Listen at 4 levels:
- the facts
- the emotions
- what’s important to the speaker and their intent in telling you this
- notice what filters and biases may be influencing their thinking … and yours.
Pay attention to generating a shared understanding and act like a trampoline. When you pick up information at all four levels, you are able to ask questions to help the speaker gain deeper insights into their situation, by testing assumptions and clarifying interpretations. Then you can support them to develop new approaches to resolving their issue. A truly generative conversation that leaves you both in a better place. Notice the positive impact on the speaker and how that makes you feel good too.
Listening benefits both you and the speaker, I encourage you to do it often.
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