“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” – Karl A. Menninger.
Are you 100% present when you are in a conversation?
Or do you find yourself running ahead, planning your response while the other person is still talking?
Active listening is more than eye contact and nodding. It is to be 100% present and focused on what the other person is saying. Unfortunately, most people are more focused on making their next point than listening to an entire message.
This week I sat down with Certified Business Coach Grace Keohohou Hao to learn why we often react from our past conditioning rather than responding to what is said. Join us to understand why Grace can listen and make a person feel like no one else is in the room.
In today’s high-tech, high-speed, high-stress world, communication is more critical than ever, yet it seems like people are talking at each other more than listening to each other. Take a moment to consider how many emails, text messages, voice mails and other interruptive, one-way communications you receive daily. And yet, few skills are more critical for effective communication and strong leadership than the ability to listen. Listening can be challenging in that humans speak at an average rate of about 250 words per minute, while we cognitively process speech at more than triple this rate! Therefore, it is understandable that while listening to someone else speak, to be formulating a reply. However, this means that we are not listening to all that is being said. Whether you’re a parent, entrepreneur, best friend, husband or wife, quality listening is a skill that we each must choose to master.
What is Active Listening?
Listening is an active process. The act of quality listening involves all our senses. It is to listen so that the other person feels heard, valued and understood. Active listening means fully concentrating on what is said rather than passively ‘hearing’ the speaker’s message. The essence of communication, active listening, is the foundation for any successful conversation.
Our listening can often be shut down by what we think we know. Similarly, our conditioning and experiences can colour and influence our ability to hear what is said. To actively listen, we must remain open, neutral, and withhold judgment. It is to suspend our beliefs, biases and stereotypes and give the listener 100% of your attention.
Hear the unspoken- Listening for the unsaid
“The activity of interpreting might be understood as listening for the ‘song beneath the words.” – Ronald Heifetz
Grace described this state as being neutral with our listening. When we hear from this neutral space and listen with our whole body, we listen for feelings and emotions as much as facts and words. “Our bodies shriek before our mouths speak.” We must listen inquisitively and strategically by going beyond the words to understand the speaker’s real needs and motivation. Listening ‘between the lines.’ involves hearing the things that were ‘not said’ as well as those that were.
In other words, listen and look for a shift in energy in a person. It is to look for a change in behaviour or facial expressions. This type of listening means listening with your ears, your eyes and your heart. Active listening is also about patience and becoming comfortable with silence. Staying silent gives time and opportunity for the speaker to share extra information. It may feel odd initially, but you will be amazed how often more information emerges after a moment’s silence. As Grace so beautifully shared, we are not learning when we are talking. We are learning when we are listening.
Three actions to become a better listener:
#1- Reset and create a clearing for non-judgemental sharing. Before engaging in a conversation, clear your mind. The first step in your ability to listen is to be aware of your judgements, biases, prejudices and stereotypes. Your ability to listen and be objective requires an awareness of what you bring and what you must put aside. We must do our inner work.
#2 Listening to understand: Come to every conversation ready to listen and have the person feel heard. To do so, you must master the art of being present. Ask clarifying questions with no assumptions. Listen to grasp someone’s perception, their experience and opinions.
#3 Ask great questions: To ask great questions takes a clear focus and requires putting all your attention on that person. This attention has someone feel heard, valued and respected—the magic of a great question occurs in our silence. Once a question is asked, be silent and still. Grace describes the silence that occurs between the question and the answer as “heaven’s gap.”
Active listening is the only way to stay truly present in communication. Join the Mindset Mastery Mastermind to connect with other leaders committed to enhancing their leadership and mastering the art of active listening.