Listening Practices: Tips and Traps

Have you ever noticed how GOOD it feels to be really listened to? It’s impactful, particularly when the listening goes beyond just the words you’re speaking. That kind of artful listening conveys respect and value to the speaker, and promotes positive relationships of all kinds.

And, like any art, it takes practice.

According to widely referenced statistics by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, known for his pioneering work in nonverbal communication, only 7% of communication happens through a person’s actual words (38% through tone and 55% through body language). That’s why it’s important to hone our skills to listen at deeper levels.

A good place to start is by understanding the three listening levels described in the book Co-Active Coaching, by Laura Whitworth, Henry Kimsey-House and Phil Sandahl.

Listening Levels

Level 1—Internal: We hear the other person’s words, but our focus is on what it means to us—our thoughts, feelings, judgments and conclusions. We may also be concerned with what the other person thinks of us. This level is useful for checking in with our feelings or to make decisions.

Level 2—Laser-Focused: Our attention is focused like a laser beam on the other person, with little awareness of anything else. With such strong focus, we are curious, open and have little time to pay attention to our own feelings or worry about how we are being received. Mind chatter disappears with such a sharp focus.

Level 3—Global: Our attention is spread out like an antenna with a 360-degree range. It allows us to pick up emotions, energy, body language and the environment itself. Intuition heightens as we tune into the deeper layers of what is going on around us.

All three levels are necessary. However, when we spend too much time in self-focused Level 1 listening, our communication can seriously suffer. Engaging all three levels at once, with more emphasis on Levels 2 and 3, can improve how we listen—and the impact of how we are received.

Listening Blocks

Having spent more than 20 years training business people in listening skills, Richard Anstruther and his team of communication experts at HighGain, Inc., have identified five main listening blocks:

  • Tune Out—Listeners are not paying attention to the speaker due to disinterest in the speaker or subject, thinking about other things or multitasking.
  • Detach—Listeners are emotionally detached from the speaker, concerned with content only, not the feelings behind it. They may be only half listening, not really interacting, and miss the message’s underlying meaning.
  • Rehearse—Listeners are concentrating on what to say or do next, rather than focusing on the speaker’s message.
  • Judge—Listeners have a different opinion that causes them to block out new ideas and information or lose track of the conversation. They analyze and interpret the speaker’s delivery or message, missing the point. They criticize, give advice and make assumptions.
  • Control—Listeners don’t allow the speaker to talk at his or her own pace. They constantly interrupt with comments or questions, and don’t allow the speaker to finish a point.

Try This!

Below are a few suggestions for honing your listening skills. Enjoy them!

  1. Experiment with Levels 1, 2 and 3 listening, one at a time, to fully understand the dynamics at each level. Try this in everyday conversation, or practice with someone. Take turns telling a story and listening. The results may surprise you!
  2. Spend some time noticing how often you fall into tuning out, detaching, rehearsing, judging or controlling. What can you do to keep from falling into these common traps?
  3. In your everyday conversations, or in an intentional practice session with a partner, explore each listening block, one at a time. Notice how you feel and the impact on the person with whom you are communicating.

The first step to developing artful listening is to choose to truly listen. As you continue to develop your listening skills, your communications and your relationships are likely to become increasingly satisfying and rich!

Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications

*** Participants in our Guiding mindful coach certification courses develop receptive, respectful listening skills based on Level 2 and 3 listening.  They are wholeheartedly present as clients describe their hearts’ desires, design solutions to achieve them, and work through obstacles along the way.

 

 

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Listening to Our Bodies They Know More than We Do!

The body holds much of the information we need to function at our best, but too often we ignore its messages and plow ahead with what our minds tell us. Perhaps because we’re not taught from early on to pay attention to internal messages as well as external demands, we frequently ignore our body’s communications.

So we take another extra-strength aspirin rather than investigating what’s causing our head to ache. We use more caffeine or sugar to give us a lift when we feel tired, rather than hearing our body’s message about needing rest or recognizing our fatigue as an early symptom of burnout we’d do well to heed. A look at our pets may be all the message we need about the value of naps.

We fail to take into account the thousand little messages communicated to us by how we’re holding ourselves: the mouth that’s pinched and tight rather than relaxed. The fact that our shoulders are up around our ears, the knot of tension in our stomach as we promise to do something when closer consideration might tell us we are already overextended.

These days we’re notorious for putting deadlines ahead of the protests of aching bones or inadequately nourished bellies. (Is there hidden wisdom in calling a due date a deadline in the first place?) Instead of asking our body what it wants, we go for the quick fill-up or the comfort food that may be the last thing we really need.

So what to do to give your body an equal say in how you use it?

Start with the breath. Breathing consciously is a major part of body awareness. Turn off thoughts and just let yourself experience the inflow and outflow of breath. Label them, “In. Out. In. Out.” Note how and where you are breathing or failing to, a clear sign something important is going on.

Allow yourself quiet time. Sit for ten minutes just observing yourself, even (especially!) in the middle of a busy day. Meditate. Take a walk or a nap. Allow time to do nothing. Soak in a hot tub rather than taking a quick shower.

Get a massage. It’s not self-indulgence to be massaged; it wakes up the whole nervous system and helps you tune in.

Use your journal to dialogue with your body. Ask your body how it’s feeling, what it wants, what’s going on. Give that sore wrist or stiff lower back a voice and let it tell you what its message is.

Eat when hungry, sleep when tired. Take a week and really pay attention to your body’s most basic needs. Do your real rhythms for eating and sleeping conform to the habits you’ve established? If they don’t, change them!

Do a body inventory to relax. Start with your toes and work upwards. Scan your body from the inside. Or try tensing each part slightly, then relaxing it to release residual tension.

Practice mindfulness. Get used to tuning in to your physical self, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing.

And if your body suggests rolling down a grassy hillside, taking flight on a playground swing, or skipping down a winding path, why resist? Its impulses hold the key to our well-being!

Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications

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Effective Listening for Leaders

With organizations, leaders and individuals so fervently focused on the bottom line, it’s easy to ignore “softer” goals, such as listening well. All that touchy-feeling stuff is a waste of my time, you might say or think.

On the contrary! A focus on listening can lead to more effective teamwork, higher productivity, fewer conflicts and errors, enhanced innovation and problem-solving, improved recruiting and retention, superior customer relations and more. As authors on leadership development have noted through the years, listening is not just a nice thing to do, it’s essential!

“Make the human element as important as the financial or the technical element,” wrote Stephen Covey in his seminal book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “You save tremendous amounts of time, energy and money when you tap into the human resources of a business at every level. When you listen, you learn.

Leaders should focus on listening.

As long ago as 1966, Peter Drucker, author of The Effective Executive and numerous other books, emphasized the importance of listening to both self and others as an essential step in bringing to light everyone’s role as contributors to the organization’s overall success.

Likewise, studies in Emotional Intelligence (EI) over the past couple of decades have found that leaders actually “infect” the workplace (for better or for worse) with their attitudes and energy. To understand and influence these flows of emotions and motivational states, leaders need to be able to practice empathic listening skills

In their book Primal Leadership, authors Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis and Annie McKee, describe how varying leadership styles rely on listening skills for their effectiveness.

Visionary leaders listen to values held by individuals within the group, enabling them to explain their own goals for the organization in a way that wins support.

Coaching leaders listen one-on-one to employees, establish rapport and trust, and help employees help themselves in matters of performance and information gathering.

Affiliative leaders listen for employees’ emotional needs and strive to honor and accommodate those needs in the workplace.

Democratic leaders elicit ideas and participation by listening to everyone’s opinions and information

In Seven Habits, Covey cites numerous examples of successful business deals and resolved workplace issues in pointing out the importance—and power—of empathic listening versus mechanical, or perfunctory, listening. He also acknowledges that it takes time and practice to become adept at listening empathically. Here are some tips for sharpening your listening skills.

Develop your curiosity. This helps with Covey’s suggestion: Seek first to understand. Genuine curiosity is felt by others and helps to open up their speech and your listening.

Pay attention to your listening. Replay conversations you’ve had and assess whether you listened well.

Seek feedback. Ask co-workers, employees, bosses, clients/customers and suppliers to assess your listening skills.

Work with a coach. Coaches can help you discover ways to listen better not only to those you work with, but also to yourself.

Listening better will reward you with an entirely new level of communication and problem-solving skills, for empathic listening requires the ability to see multiple points of view in any given situation.

 

Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications