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How do we listen effectively?

This is the second in our series of blogs on the art of listening. It supports our October listening challenge #shutupandlisten where we encourage our network to really listen.

Article 2: How do we learn to listen?

It does not matter whether you think you know what the person will say before they say it. Do not interrupt them or stop them. What matters is what happens for them because they say it. [Nancy Kline]

To listen properly, respectfully and immersively, you have to only listen. By this I mean that you should only listen and nothing else. Remove all distractions. Put away your phone. Turn away from the computer screen. Don’t look out of the window. Engage wholly with the person speaking and try to empty your head of random, non-related thoughts. Try to only listen to what they are saying and watch their body language as a secondary way to deeper understanding.

Obviously you don’t need to do this for every conversation you ever have. It would be startling for the person who asks if you want a mid-morning brew. It would also alarm the postman who asks you to sign for a parcel But, for most meaningful conversations, learning to listen is vital.

The next thing you do, once the speaker has your full attention, is NOT SPEAK. This is so very hard. We want to agree, nod enthusiastically, jump in with our thoughts and empathy. We might yearn to disagree. We might have had a very similar experience. We also might not be very interested. Listening is hard work. That’s why we’ve called this campaign #shutupandlisten to remind you of the order of things!

By giving the floor completely to someone, you are allowing them the freedom to voice, explore and hear how their thoughts sound out loud. It transfers many emotions but three important ones include: respect, trust and humility.

You care enough about the speaker to let them take the time they need to communicate something important to them. You are also trusting them to find the words they need and they are trusting you with their views. Finally, humility is abundant as we don’t try and steer the conversation or overlay our own thoughts bang on top of theirs. By creating space to speak, we create the space to listen properly and great things happen! (more on that in a later article).

The humility aspect is really interesting because what we are doing, possibly for the first time ever, is to let the speaker know that, at that moment, their words are the most important thing. Not our response.

I’ve taken this top 10 list from the website of where there is a lot if useful listening information. It summarises what I’ve said and has a very interesting point 8 which I think needs more exploration in a future article.

  1. Value listening. Consciously choose to listen more and listen better.

  2. Prepare to listen. (Put away the cell phone)

  3. Listen with an open mind to what the speaker has to say.

  4. Let the speaker finish talking before you respond.

  5. First, listen to understand, not to respond.

  6. Look for verbal and nonverbal clues about how important this message is to the speaker.

  7. Listen for strong emotional content of the message, as well as the meaning of the words.

  8. Be aware of cultural differences, age differences, and gender differences in how people speak to each other and how they listen to each other. They may be expecting different indicators of listening and respect.

  9. Reflect back what you’ve heard if that seems appropriate.

  10. Respond in a way that shows that you have listened and follow up with future actions to show that you listened.

Challenge yourself in the next meaningful conversation you have to only listen. Stop what you’re doing. Forget how busy you are. The person in front of you has something to say. You can make that as pivotal or important as you want to by the level of attention to pay.

Let us know how you get on!

We will continue to explore the mechanics of how you find common ground and how to listen for resolution through this series of dedicated blogs. First of all, start by appreciating that listening is key to all communications. Take a breath and let your speaker speak!

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