Last night I was facilitating a workshop for mentors for Monash University, Australia’s largest university. Throughout the workshop the participants had been holding a conversation regarding the importance of listening. One participant suggested that if you listen, “…while your answer is running in your head, then you are not listening at all.”
I had never heard this description for not listening and it struck me a s a clear example of what really does go on when people are supposed to be listening.
Often people are simply waiting for the other person to stop speaking so that they can ‘take their turn’ and now say what they have been preparing to say. Recently I facilitated a development half day for an executive team and one of the activities that I facilitated was called Turning Points. In that activity participants share significant events in their lives that, if they had not occurred the person believes that they would not be in the physical room on that day; they would be somewhere else in the world because their life would have travelled a different path.
Due to the personal nature of the stories I ask the participants to, “Do whatever it takes to listen with one hundred percent attention”. After people have shared their stories we then talk about the quality of listening that was occurring throughout the conversation.
Participants commonly report that they couldn’t believe how much they ‘heard’. When asked why they heard so much, the regular reply is, “I wanted to hear what they had to say. I wanted to give them my full attention. I didn’t have any opinions about what they were saying so it made it easier to listen”.
I then ask team members if the quality of listening that they just experienced is regularly present in their team meetings. “Rarely, if ever” is the normal response.
Listening is regularly listed as one of the most important characteristics of effective leaders. So how do you listen with 100 percent attention when you do have an opinion about what the other person is saying?
A couple of techniques to consider are to consciously make the choice to listen to someone. You might even say to yourself, “I am going to listen to this person with one hundred percent attention.” Choosing to listen to someone from the perspective of trying to understand fully what they are saying is a powerful way to enhance your listening. It re-enforces that your own opinion is not worth saying of even fully formulating until you have understood the other person to the best of your ability.
Statements such as, “What I think you just said was…” are ways of checking your understanding.
Listening is not easy. In fact my view is that it is the most difficult of all the skills of effective leadership. yet it is also a critical skill to master. So it is worth making the effort to:
- Make the conscious choice to listen; and
- Listen first to understand.
What practical tactics to you use to enhance the quality of your listening, particularly when you are in team meetings and you do have strong views about the topic?
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