How are your listening skills? This week we’re looking at five tips to level up your listening.
Welcome to episode 54 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we’re looking at five tips to level up your listening.
Have you ever had that experience of talking to someone, only to notice that they’re not really paying attention? How are your listening skills? What’s the balance like between your speaking and listening?
Listening is an essential part of effective leadership. Listening underpins core skills such as influencing and assertiveness. If we want to influence someone we need to know where we are influencing them from, not just where we want to influence them to. To do that effectively, we need to really listen to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. We need to listen to the content and also the emotion.
So, rather than just give you some tips about listening, I’m going to test your listening skills through this podcast. During the podcast I’m going to ask you to complete a pretty simple addition of some numbers. Just keep track of the total as the podcast continues. And keep the number in your head - you’re not allowed to take notes. Okay, so we’re going to start with 1,000.
It’s helpful to think about the common levels of listening. The first level is ignoring. To be fair, you could argue that this isn't really a level of listening. It's almost like actively not listening. Smart phones are great for this - if you've ever tried to have a conversation with someone while they play with their phone, you'll know exactly what I mean. +10. So you should have a total of 1,010, and that’s my last hint.
The next level of listening is pretending. Here I'm trying to give the impression that I'm listening while I'm really not listening. I might nod my head occasionally, say 'mmm-hmmm', but people pick up really quickly when we're just pretending to listen. +1000
The next level up is selective listening. This is better than the previous two levels of listening, but still isn't great. Here we're listening to the other person, but just to elements of what they're saying. Maybe we're just hearing the parts we agree with, or we're listening out for things to disagree with. Either way, there's a whole lot of other information that we're missing out on when we listen selectively. +30
The fourth level of listening is listening to respond. Here my listening is attuned to opportunities to turn the conversation back to my interests. Or I'm listening to argue back, so am only really hearing part of what you're saying. I'm not asking questions unless they will help me to respond. +1000
The fifth and final level is listening to understand. Here my objective is to really understand your perspective. I'm asking open questions and confirming my understanding. I'm not worrying so much about the next question, but am making sure I'm concentrating on what you're saying. I'm listening not just to the words, but for the emotions behind the words. I'm keeping the conversation focused on you. +50
So we want to move our listening up these levels in order to have assertive and influential conversations. Our attention spans can often work against this. If you've ever listened to a podcast or audio book on double speed you will know exactly what I mean. +1000.
Our brains can comfortably process verbal information coming at us at double speed. Which means, when someone is talking normal speed, it's tempting for us to try to divert some of our attention to other things. What should I have for dinner tonight? What meeting do I have coming up next? But we are actually not great at multi-tasking, and anything else we're thinking about will take us away from the task of listening to understand. +10
Okay - that’s all the numbers. What total did you end up with? Did you get 4,500? If so, unfortunately that’s not the correct answer. The correct answer is 4,100, but lots of people end up with 4,500 as their brains try to simplify the task and round up to the nearest 500. If you chose to perform the calculation through this podcast, you probably didn’t end up listening very well or calculating very well. It’s exactly the same when we’re distracted during every day conversations. Trying to think about something else while you’re also trying to listen means you’re probably not doing either very well. It’s far better to have a 10 minute conversation where you’re 100% listening than a 20 minute conversation where you’re 50% listening.
Here are five simple tips to try out this week:
Paraphrase what you’ve heard back to the person. That demonstrates you’re really listening and also quickly uncovers any misunderstandings.
If you’re in a meeting, take notes. Note taking is a great way to maintain focus and summarise themes.
Don’t just listen to the facts, but also listen for emotion. How do you think the person is feeling?
Don’t worry about what’s next. Be comfortable formulating your next question once they’ve finished what they’re saying, rather than part way through.
Watch your body language. Make sure you’re facing the person and making eye contact. Nod occasionally to demonstrate your interest.
Hopefully today’s podcast encourages you to pay attention to your listening in the coming week. If you liked today’s content, the levels of listening were drawn from my new Boost Your Assertiveness online course. You can find a link to the course via the leadership.today website or in the show notes.
I hope you found the content helpful and I look forward to speaking with you next week.