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What are we listening for?

This is the first 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.

In the quiet presence of your attention, respect and ease, important things can happen for the person thinking. Fresh ideas can emerge; confusion can dissipate; painful feelings can subside; creativity can explode. [Nancy Kline]

To learn the art and science of listening will change all of your relationships: colleagues, family, friends and even interactions with strangers. But before you begin, you need to know what you can expect to achieve by slowing down your communications and taking the time to really listen.

Typically when we listen, we are doing one of several things. We are waiting for our turn to speak. We are hoping to interject with an understanding anecdote of our own to show we have empathy. We don’t listen because we are distracted by something else or our own thoughts. We listen half-heartedly whilst multi-tasking. Sound familiar? Of course it does, because we all do it.

Now try the next conversation in a different way. Stop what you are doing. Put down your phone. In fact, put away your phone – in a drawer, bag or under a cushion! Look directly at the person who is talking to you and give them the floor. Really listen to what is being said. Don’t interrupt. Don’t plan your response. Let the person speaking take their time and say what they need to.

You’ll experience something new. It’s actually a hard thing to do, especially if you love the bubbly interaction of conversation. Especially if you like to show that you know what someone is saying. The truth is that, no matter how similar a situation you think you’re listening to, it is unique to the speaker. They want to convey something to you and they want your attention. They may not need an immediate solution. It might be enough to voice, explore and reflect on what has been said.

By really listening you also pick up on non-verbal clues. How does the person look? Are they relaxed? Are they anxious or fidgety? There is so much you can compute from body language, expression and hand gestures that you’d miss if you are staring at a computer screen, washing up or facing away from someone. These are also good reasons for not holding a conversation over an office partition, through the wall of two rooms or even shouting to someone upstairs.

Before running a few errands this weekend, I said goodbye to my daughter and her face fell immediately. I asked if she wanted to come with me and she perked up and joined me. That wouldn't have happened if I had just shouted my farewell up the stairs. Non-verbal clues are really important.

By stopping and really listening you will receive a much higher percentage of understanding. This is the reason that texting is such a poor way to communicate – there is very little in the way of context, emotion and inflection that can be introduced via its two-dimensional medium.

In summary:

  • Listen to understand

  • Listen to give the speaker the space and time they need

  • Listen to find common ground

  • Listen to observe non-verbal clues

  • Listen to achieve harmony and resolution

We will continue to explore the mechanics of how you listen, 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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