Are You Listening?
I keep hearing 80’s band Pseudo Echo playing in my head…
”I say, you say, weren’t you listening? Now it’s too late, you’re not listening…”Ahh, such wisdom lads….:)
But let me return to the present day! Once another person feels like they’re not being listened to by us they switch off, try harder to be heard and every now and then, they’ll adjust their approach to re-establish the connection so that you’re both back on the same page.
There are so many impediments to truly hearing what another has to say, and as a listener it’s up to us to be self aware enough to clean this up to ensure we’re ready to truly listen. As the speaker wanting to be listened to, we too need to do a few things to ensure our communication can be well received.
Tips for listeners:
ONE: Be emotionally aware
Of yourself that is. Ask yourself: “what’s going on for me today? Have I released the last conversation, or is there a thread I’m bringing through to this one?” Not such an issue if the last conversation was positive but it’s about appropriateness. If my last conversation was filled with laughter but the next one is about letting someone go, that emotion isn’t appropriate to carry over. Am I agitated or fearful? How well will I be able to hear in this state? Sometimes we can project how the speaker will be and we end up making that a self fulfilling prophecy as we respond to them “as if” and in turn, they respond. Coming into each call cleanly from an emotional perspective is a fundamental to better listening. Take time between conversations to re-centre with breath.
TWO: Remove distractions
With phone and video holding greater or at least equal weight to an in person conversation in this current environment, it’s even more important that the person speaking with you knows they have your undivided attention. Walking around, looking down or sideways, or thinking about something other than what the person speaking with you is saying is disrespectful. While it may not actually be the case, it communicates a message of I’d rather be somewhere else than here speaking with you. Know that and stop doing it.
THREE: Use clean language when feeding back what you’ve heard
Clean language is when you feed back to the speaker the exact words they used in the way they used them. It makes the speaker feel listened to, understood and heard. It requires you to listen then to their key words, write them down even. It encourages better listening, and ensures the meaning the speaker intended is reflected back. Not your interpretation or summary. Their words, their way. Simple stuff but powerful indeed.
FOUR: Listen for the emotion: what they don’t say can be more powerful than what they do say
What’s sitting underneath the communication? Naming the emotion, checking with the speaker about the emotion diffuses it if negative and acknowledges it. “You sound like something’s going on for you…how are you feeling?” or “I’m picking up some frustration/sadness/unease/disappointment/tiredness….is that right though?” Deal with that first. Don’t return to the topic until the emotion is labeled. Trust me: I’ve done this and it’s a disaster that results in a whole host of misunderstandings, poor interpretations and breakdown in a relationship.
FIVE: Listen with all of your senses to hold the space
If all you do is provide a place where the speaker knows you’ve truly held everything they’ve conveyed: the content, the emotion, the intention, you’re off to a great start. It can only build well from there. This is a skill that requires 100% presence from you the listener and an open heart. It’s why people love great listeners: they feel safe and “gotten”. It’s gold.
Tips for speakers:
ONE: Be aware of the listener’s communication style in advance in order to adjust.
Do they prefer facts and data mainly, or emotion? Do they like lots of detail or big picture? Do they want to dive in and get to the point or do they prefer to speak about personal stuff first? Knowing how your listener prefers to communicate is a tricky one – especially if you’ve not communicated with them before. Asking a question at the start of the conversation can give you some hints here: “how has your week/day/morning/afternoon been? “ How they respond will tell you what to do next. Being able to adjust quickly is the key. Do the work to grow your communication flexibility.
TWO: Are you aware of the context? Has anything happened in the listener’s world to affect their level of reception to your message?
The above question will help here too, but if you can see your listener, clock their body language to get a fuller understanding. If you’re on the phone, listen for their breathing and tone to sense the emotion.
THREE: Be clear about what outcome you want to convey during the conversation and think about the best way to get there.
Knowing your listener, what’s the best way to achieve your outcome? Which questions will help the listener to think differently, to proffer information that will progress your conversation? What do you need to be aware of? Taking time to consider the best approach and plan it out enables you to rehearse in your mind that conversation, and enables you to be more present as you’re not trying to think of the questions to ask next – you’ve already done that.
FOUR: Be present
If you want your listener to be present, then so must you be. Give them all of your attention. Refer to your notes and be present to what’s going on for them. Be there with your senses and an open heart.
FIVE: If you’re not sure your message is being well received stop and find out with curiosity.
When you’ve conveyed your message but there’s a miscommunication for whatever reason don’t simply double down on getting your message across. I’m ashamed to say I’ve done this and of course it never goes well! Stop talking. Instead, seek to understand. What is happening here? Sometimes it’s not what we say but how we say it that prevents our message from being heard. Check in with empathy and curiosity: “I’ve noticed that maybe we’ve lost our thread a bit here. Where did I lose you?” “I get the feeling I’ve said something that’s affected our connection: I’m so sorry. Help me understand.” Get the connection back. Without it, your message has no hope.
Effective communication is the responsibility of both parties. When both people come together with an intention to deepen understanding, there’s a willingness to make sure that happens.