My colleagues and I always talk about the importance of knowing your audience, and preparing for your work communication correctly. We work with our clients on their ability to clarify the message and the ask, and to try to anticipate what the audience will care about, and the questions or objections they may have.
And all of those things become significantly easier when we listen well, and when we listen for the correct things. How well do you listen? Be honest. Most people, when they are allegedly “listening” are really just quietly thinking about what they want to say next. Most people are daydreaming or multi-tasking in their own head when they are in meetings or on conference calls. We are all guilty of this, myself included. But when we allow ourselves to be distracted and when we don’t listen well, we are giving up our best chance to understand the people around us, and gather information that may be helpful in the next meeting, conference call, presentation or conversation.
We think about listening on three levels:
- Level 1: At the most basic level, good listening is about retention of facts, things you heard, details.
- Level 2: The next step beyond that is to listen for more than just facts, but to listen and try to determine implication, and what might matter to your audience. You hear the facts, and you start to analyze what might be important for your audience.
- Level 3: In our experience, the highest level of listening occurs when you absorb broad inputs (what people say, how they say it, their facial expression and body language when they say it, what they do NOT say, etc) and are able to consistently identify how people’s minds work, and how they will make decisions. At this highest level, you are absorbing everything about the moment, everything about the person, and you are completely mindful and present.
This level of listening is not always possible or practical, but when you can listen at this level, you have serious competitive advantage.
In our experience, listening at higher levels of attention requires practice, just like any other desirable skill. You need to work at it, to perfect it. And furthermore, higher levels of listening are simply impossible when we allow ourselves to be distracted by our mobile devices, or whatever is on our computer screen. Distraction and multi-tasking are the enemies of good listening.
This is obviously a much longer topic than can be capably covered in a single blog post. But my point today is to challenge you to think about how well you listen. Do you focus and listen to the people around you? And more importantly, what do you listen for? Are you just capturing facts and details? Or do you listen for more beyond that?
Think about it. Significant competitive advantage awaits.
Have a great day.