Conscious listening is becoming a forgotten art. If we can’t train ourselves to actively listen to our customers, colleagues, suppliers, friends, family members or anyone else, how can we hope to understand them?
Why Don’t We Listen?
The fact is, it’s getting harder to listen. As a society, we are bombarded with sensory data from all manner of channels and wigits, which has reduced our ability to notice and appreciate things in life that are quiet or subtle. It has driven us to need constant stimulation, made us impatient and fostered a ‘cult of self’ mentality, encouraging an inflated sense of our own self-importance. Compounding this, we are no longer reliant on listening as a significant mode of recording information, and most schools don’t teach it. In summary, our cultural landscape places very little value on listening as a skill, and we are not being taught otherwise.
Benefits of Being a Conscious Listener (with a focus on those relevant to the workplace):
- you hear what’s being said, as well as the subtle things that add meaning but are not spoken
- people feel that they have been heard, which increases their satisfaction with the exchange
- it promotes a culture of respect, which has obvious benefits to all stakeholders
- you are more likely to reach the best outcomes, rather than relying on the usual persuasion by argument
- you create a space for other people to use, to express their own ideas or views, which they may not have voiced otherwise, often adding valuable insight from different personality types
- provides more opportunity and better reception of it, when you tactfully voice diverging opinions or views
- most importantly, you achieve a deeper level of understanding
How to be a Conscious Listener
Most literature available recommends a 2-phase approach, which is to a. practice listening exercises, and b. adopt a best practice approach to the listening process.
1. Listening exercises help to re-calibrate your body’s ability to appreciate the subtle sounds, they can include:
- Mindfulness walks, where you clear your head as much as you can and simply focus on the sounds you hear
- Sitting for 3 minutes of silence per day
- Focusing on a particular sound, and making an effort to enjoy it thoroughly (eg. water filling a bath tub, turning on a gas stove)
- Practice listening with different filters/perspectives (eg. as a colleague, as a competitor, as an examiner, as an intern)
2. Best practice listening process:
- Pay attention – make eye contact, avoid distractions, and unless you are the timekeeper or the chairperson do not interrupt the speaker. Watch their body language, and be mindful of your own.
- Show that you are listening – make small noises of acknowledgement like ‘ah’, ‘ok’, ‘yes’ or nod your head.
- Summarise what you have heard to ensure you have understood.
- Ask Questions.
- Respond, where appropriate – offer your own view or alternate information. Always assert your opinions respectfully.
In summary, if you are setting personal development goals for FY2018, spare a thought for including one on actively working on becoming a conscious and engaged listener. Everyone will thank you for it!