There’s no such thing as ‘easy listening’

2nd July 2019

Would you say that you’re a good listener? I guess most of us would answer ‘yes’ to that one unsurprisingly. In this article Powell states that “Listening skills are the best skills a leader can have.” That’s probably not ground breaking news either; with all respect to Powell!J

Yet ‘listening skills’ still feature regularly in most of the leadership programs that I deliver and it’s a skill that few of us do really well, probably because we assume there’s not much to it! As a coach I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty good listener; but that was completely challenged when I started my psychotherapy training. What I have come to realise is that I can usually manage to REALLY listen to my clients for the hour that we’re together – but it takes a huge amount of effort and energy. There’s a constant flow of information and data ‘coming from the other chair’ that’s having an impact on me. As coaches and therapists we’re trained to listen for;

  • What’s being said? What’s being left out?
  • What’s happening with voice and tone?
  • What dissonance is there to what’s being said and implied for instance through body language?
  • What am I picking up in terms of feelings and the emotional tone?
  • What’s the contact like between me and them? What impact are they having on me?

That’s just for starters and there’s already a whole lot of stuff there to hear, process and assimilate. Good listening is so much more than shutting up and “pining back yer lug oles’ (as they say in Yorkshire). It’s an active process. Listening ebbs and flows evenwhen the contact and rapport is good. Our heads hijack us; we become momentarily distracted and the connection is broken. Or we become so interested in what the others is sharing that we fight the desire to interject and give our tuppence worth. Either way we’re no longer listening and are probably missing a mahoosive part of what is both being said and meant.

I’m definitely not saying that I always get it right. We’re all human and work in progress after all, but here’s what I’ve learned about listening that’s taken it to a whole different level for me;

  • Set your intention– going into a conversation or a meeting with the intention of seeking; being flexible; staying curious and trying to understand the other persons perspective gets you off to a good start. It’s not about you, it’s about them!
  • Get your own head in order before you start– if there’s stuff going on in your head, you can’t possibly give the other 100% of your attention. Start a meeting or conversation when you’ve had time to close off the pervious activity. Bouncing from one meeting or conversation to the next doesn’t do anyone any favours.
  • Notice and name it– notice when you’ve become distracted or wandered off and be brave about letting people know, if there’s something that you think you’ve missed
  • Tune in– this one’s a bit more difficult to explain. This is about sensing what the other might be feeling. Mirror neurons (more of them another time) mean that we often, subconsciously pick up what people are feeling. Listening and noticing my own felt sense in a conversation might give me some big clues about how the other feels; which might otherwise have passed unnoticed.
  • Get comfortable with silence – a tough one if you’re a high extrovert like me. But being prepared to leave the space for more to be said; for processing to take place or just to give time for the other to gather their own thoughts can feel hugely respectful and considerate. Don’t be in a hurry to fill the silence. It’s not a power struggle is a punctuation and a pause which often feels hugely validating for the other person
  • Channel your inner terrier – listening takes effort and energy. It’s not a passive action. If you were watching from a distance, it might look like the listener is doing and saying very little. But, true, deep listening takes a huge amount of tenacity and courage. Anyone who has a terrier will know that they have these qualities in spades!! We need to stay with, even when we want to disengage because we disagree. We need to hang on when we hear stuff that potentially cuts across our values. We need to dig deep and find the right questions; to stay curious and without judgment.

In those moments when we get this right the other person feels that we’re alongside. That we’re really working to understand and see their perspective. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a really good listening to, you already know that it’s massively validating and it really helps to foster a relational connection. When clients say things like ‘I’ve never told anyone this’ or ‘It feels silly to say this.’ I take that as feedback that the connection is good and trust is high – neither of which is possible if I’m not doing my best to listen and be curious about their view of the world.

Why not set yourself a little listening challenge this week?

Find one, small opportunity to listen more, say less and clock the reaction!!

Good luck….and feel free to let me know how you get on! If you’d like to work with me on taking your own listening to the next level, please get in touch!