Are you a good listener?
You probably want to say ‘Yes’.
‘Yes’ on the basis you have a razor sharp memory which can recall everything which was said in the conversation.
How about the unsaid? Or what could have been said?
Would the last person you met with agree?
Active listening is harder than you think. It’s a skill you choose to turn on and, certainly, one which needs to be practiced.
Active listening vs conversations
Being an extrovert, I have always been excitable in conversations. I love to listen but often prided myself in being a mind reader and becoming one of those annoying people. who likes to finish everyone’s sentences.
That’s great for the extroverts out there, who love a fast moving conversation. Rubbish for the poor introverts who want to finish their train of thought and get a word in edgeways!
It’s also rubbish if you are talking with someone who needs to work through an issue, which needs deep listening skills.
Then I started to read about active listening.
As a leader and a coach, we have many conscious choices. We’ve talked before about the leadership roles we assume in certain situations, but we also need to think about how we act too and the skills we use. One of those skills to deploy is active listening.
A conversation (by definition) is an exchange of ideas. It’s usually a 2-way thing. A 50–50 exchange.
You can listen in a conversation, but your role is to keep the conversation moving and thinking about the next point to be received and discussed.
Active listening, whilst it must be 2-way (we will come to that), the vast majority of the conversation comes from the other person. Possibly as much as 90-10.
Your role is to acknowledge and help your counterpart extract further thoughts.
Active listening to move forward
It sounds counterintuitive however, listening more could help you progress in any situation.
If you want to sell something, win an argument, get your point across — listening is key to understanding other perspectives and more importantly, listening helps you gain favour in the conversation.
By listening you are paying attention.
You are cast aside the ‘selling’ to hear from someone else, to ‘care’ about their side of the story.
Not only will the speaker lean more towards you, just through the act of listening, but you also get to hear their words, understand their frame of mind, which can be used to play back a perspective in a friendlier way.
Active listening is hard
It sounds easy. Your role is just to listen. Don’t talk. Simples!
In that moment, you have to be truly present. Thinking only of what the other person is saying, feeling and observing their body language.
It doesn’t involve thinking about solutions, allowing your mind to wander, thinking about what to say next.
These days we are so used to juggling so many tasks in our heads, focusing on one task can be exhausting most people for any length of time.
Active listening doesn’t mean be quiet
Active listening is about being in that moment with the other person.
It doesn’t have to be a silent moment.
Smiling, acknowledging, nodding, agreeing — and laced with the odd question to keep you counterpart person is all part of active listening.
You must be present though. Fully present. (Otherwise you might smile and nod at the wrong moment!)
It’s actually quite soothing for you too. Almost like meditation, quietening the mind to truly focus — the other person.
Good for business?
And frankly, it’s good for you, your relationships and your business.
Customers, colleagues and employees you meet will get so much more from conversations by choosingto actively listen in the right moment.
Employee loyalty and followership has been closely linked to leader listening skills. The power of listening can help drive a deep connection and also help employees drive their own performance. Why is that?
Presence — Employees really appreciate your presence. Your full attention on their challenge. This will boost your relationship connection.
Self Soothing — By talking about the issue, employees will automatically start to feel better in that moment, without you telling them what to do in a situation, they will start to wander into potential solutions.
Acknowledgment — Employees will appreciate your smiles, nods, looks of concern. They will know you are listening and again, appreciate your support.
Learn something new — By just being in the moment you will learn so much more than a quick conversation. The body language, demeanour, the perspectives. All great information.
Deeper connection — You’ll make a deeper connection in that moment and your empathy in that moment will drive a deeper connection with that employee. Especially as employees start to solutionise next steps, with your encouragement. It will be a very positive experience.
The same applies to customers.
When customers are challenged and have issues, often they are not looking for a sales person’s chatty conversation skills. Similar to employees, they are looking to offload, talk to someone with empathy, work through challenges, then find a way forward.
Customers also look for a step further in active listening — which is paraphrasing and confirmation you have understood — so you can then help. But only after ‘they have finished’.
A conscious choice which needs practice
Like many skills we use in business, active listening needs to be consciously deployed and practiced so we feel more confident at the skill when we use it.
So next time you find yourself in conversation with an employee or customer, make a conscious choice about how much talking you should do.
See what you can learn from being a more conscious listener.
There is some really great reading out there on this subject —
Carl Rogers’ research and writings are the biggest source of content on active listening. Many have then taken his ideas and research and developed a number of frameworks to further develop in this area. The book — The Coach’s Coach is a great one to start with.
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