I spend a lot more time thinking about listening now than I used to. Why? I am not really sure. It could be my advancing age, with a major milestone looming on the horizon. It could be parenthood. It could be experience in my job. It could be the influence of some of the people in my life. Probably, it is a little bit of all those things. But the bottom line is that I think about listening and work on those skills more than at any other point in my life.
Listening matters, a lot. Listening creates understanding and the opportunity for connection. Listening is a sign of respect. Listening builds credibility. And in a fast-paced world, where everyone is always trying to get things done and get somewhere, listening is an act of love.
But this is a work blog. So let’s keep our focus there today. It is one thing to say “listening matters” or to counsel someone to work on their listening skills. But how? How does someone actually listen better? It starts with a couple of things: first, you have to want to listen. If you don’t care what others think or want or need, then this blog won’t help you at all. And second, you have to force yourself to be present and not distracted. Are you there with me? Cool, then keep reading.
My colleagues and I have been kicking around a concept called “levels of listening,” and I want to share it with you here. Not all listening is created equally. Try this on, and let us know what you think:
- Level One Listening. You are present and not distracted. You are paying attention, and taking notes. Lots of notes. You are listening at a surface level and when the meeting or the conversation is over, you can repeat back everything you heard. Good job, but you are basically a stenographer. Better than the vast majority of people who don’t listen at all. But you aren’t done yet. Your skills can be better.
- Level Two Listening. You are able to take what you are hearing, the words coming out of the speaker’s mouth, and you are now listening for the implication of the words being spoken. Based on what you already know about the speaker, or their company, or their industry, or their situation, you are able to read between the lines a bit and take what you are hearing a bit further. You can connect the dots. Your awareness is higher. The person made a passing comment about being tired? Well you are able to connect that to two things you heard previously… that their group is working tirelessly on the acquisition of a new company, AND that this person has a new baby at home. You not only understand that they are tired, but why they are tired, and this leads to a deeper understanding of what is really going on.
- Level Three Listening. You are able to move beyond the words you hear, and the implication of those words, and also draw meaning from what was not said. You start to notice the unspoken communication. The facial expressions. The changes in voice or eye contact or body language. The changes in behavior. When a person speaks up or not, when a person takes notes or not. You hear their words (level 1) and understand the implication of those words based on prior knowledge (level 2) and also notice things that are left unspoken. So, in addition to the person saying “they are tired,” and in addition to connecting that statement to the prior knowledge of lots going on at work and at home, you also notice the person’s facial expression and eye contact change when they make this comment. Do you know exactly what this change in behavior means? Perhaps not. But at a minimum, you know there is either probably more to the story, or that the exhaustion is wearing thin and the feelings are deeper than the speaker is letting on.
The point of today’s post is this… listening matters. And not all forms of listening are equal. They are surface ways of listening, and deeper ways of listening. And when we can understand what those levels are, then we have a full toolbox and a stronger skill set.
Have an opinion on this? We would love to hear your thoughts, either in the comments section below, or contact us directly.
Have a great day!
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