The Art Of Listening

Most of us believe we’re good listeners. And if we take the attributes commonly associated with listening, then we probably are. Great listeners however, do more than exercise silence when others are speaking and show the appropriate facial expressions.

Effective listening is focused around creating energy and support, while ensuring the other person feels motivated and positive after the conversation has finished.

This is how to tell the difference between good – and great – listening:

  • Listening is more effective when it’s active. That means it’s a two-way conversation and can be measured by the listener asking a question that not only demonstrates insight, but challenges the speaker in a constructive way.
  • Listening should be a positive experience. Even if it’s a difficult or sensitive topic, a good listener will make the other person feel protected and supported.
  • There’s a fine line between turning listening into an active conversation and making it a competitive sport. If you are providing comments or asking questions, it’s essential to make the other person feel as if you’re not competing for a win.
  • Utilise feedback and positive suggestions to encourage the speaker to look at things in a different way. There’s an art to doing this and if you have proven yourself to be a good listener, that person is more likely to accept your advice.

Just as importantly, you need to use your emotional intelligence (EI) and initial listening skills to understand what level of listening to use and when.

This ranges from as simple as ensuring you create a safe environment where a person feels secure discussing personal and confidential matters. Whenever you’re practicing the art of listening, turn your phone on silent and clear away other distractions. This shows people that they are your top priority. And in that moment, they should be.

When your EI tells you that someone needs you to be a sounding board, this is when you begin to ask questions and gently probe your understanding of their needs. This is the time when non-verbal communication really comes to the fore and you demonstrate that you’re listening by taking note of their posture, breathing and shaking.

It’s at these highest levels where your understanding is at its strongest. Not only do you empathise, but you’ll offer inspiration or ideas that could help solve a problem or trigger another way of thinking.

Take a self-assessment after a situation when your team has needed you to listen. Does the other person look like a weight has been lifted off their shoulder, the colour is back in their face and they are more animated? Then you know you have gone from being a good, to a great, listener.

Author: Peter Robinson
Team Leadership Services