Have you ever been on the receiving end of “Hey! Are you listening to me?” or “Did you hear what I just said?” This happens usually when you are pretending to listen while engaging in some other task that requires your attention and you ever so slightly nod and say, “uh-huh’ or “yah of course’.
When it comes to effective listening, it is more about the message and being present to it, and less about the words chosen to get the message across. Listening actually taps into three of your senses: hearing, seeing, and feeling. Although you are naturally equipped to hear and see the sounds and sights around you, it takes processing what is actually being presented to you and how you feel about it as well as how you end up making the other person feel, where the true skill of listening takes effect.
A. Do I really want to hear what the person has to say?
B. Am I ready and able to show interest in what is being said?
C. Am I willing to let go of my own preconceived notions and judgements to absorb what the underlying need is?
Listening to another person is not about giving them the amount of attention you think they deserve. It’s about choosing to understand the expression of their need by really listening to the message behind their words. Listening is the main foundation of interacting, and the essential building block for engagement and innovative ideas.
Yet it is one where so many misunderstandings surface that can lead to the misfortune of many destructive behaviors. This includes an emotional reaction to the words being said. When it comes to effective listening, there is nothing seamless about truly hearing someone.
You do not need to like a person to decide to engage in conversation with them at work. What you need is the ability to trust yourself in that conversation. Being an effective listener is actually all about your own integrity. Your strength of character in how you present yourself in each moment of conversation.
It’s not about whether or not you think the person is worthy of your time, rather it is about what you bring to each interaction. Remember that every one of your interactions focuses on the way you chose to observe, feel, think, and respond to the person who sought out your attention.
Utilizing an approach in listening that involves empathy starts with being aware of your own needs as well as the needs of the speaker. Empathy is based on the principle “both our needs are important”. The key is to not allow your thoughts to take over and take focus away from the person who is speaking. It doesn’t mean not allowing the thoughts to surface, because they will, rather it is an approach not to analyse the thought or give into the need to express it at that moment. To do this is not an easy task but it is achievable and here’s how.
In her article, How to develop empathy for someone who annoys you, Rebecca Knight emphasizes the responsibility each of us has to not only respond with empathy, but to reflect and find common ground in even the most annoying of conversations.
Avoidance or dismissing another person’s thoughts in conversation leads to further dysfunction in today’s working environments where a team effort is required more often than not. Rather than shutting the door, try being open to understanding how you are making the other person feel in the conversation. After all, they are the one who sought out your attention to share what is on their mind.
Make an effort. Stop what you are doing and engage in the conversation - even if it is to say “I really don’t have time to talk at present, I will be free in 20 minutes and would love to connect then.”
Be kind. Let go of any preconceived notion or assumption of what’s about to be said. Remember when you expect the worse that’s exactly what you will get.
Learn to tune into your own emotional reaction and discipline it. This takes knowing when those negative thoughts start to emerge and understanding the difference between an emotional reaction and a disciplined response. The latter will take you further in getting your own needs met.
Effective listening can be rewarding. It is a strong soft skill as it marks the difference between getting through your day and working in an innovative climate. You have control over deciding to view conversations either as needless distractions and irritations, or as opportunities to engage and make it work for you by keeping your personal power front and center.
By developing your effective listening talent, you are making yourself intriguing to others and in return you get the honor of seeing how others reveal themselves to you; not in their words, but in their message.