7 Ways to become a better Listener

Following on from last month’s post, I promised to share ways to overcome our lazy listening habits and become more intentional in our listening.

Deep listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give to another. For when you listen it says to them ‘you matter’. When someone feels that they matter, they will think better, feel better, add value to themselves, others and their organisation.

Deepening your listening skills and applying a learning mindset will positively impact the way you lead and live your life for the goodness of all.

If you answered yes or sometimes to the questions I posed in last months blog, below I share some thoughts and ideas on how to move the dial on your listening and therefore having a greater impact on those in your care and beyond.

1. Mitigate Distractions
Most distractions are a form of noise and come in a variety of ways:

Physical noise from our environment. The phone buzzing, the notification ping. People speaking loudly, even if in a different room, when you are all working or studying from home, will distract us from listening well.

To overcome these distractions is to be aware of them. Once you are aware, you can decide to minimise them. Turn off the notifications or your phone, close down your lap top, choose a quiet place free from distractions or interruptions when you decide to listen deeply to another.

Psychological noise from the noise in our own heads. The internal thoughts we have in response to what we have just heard. Or our own wandering thoughts, not engaged with the speaker will stop us really listening to another.

Imagine your mind is like a white board. Clean it clear of your thoughts as you give your attention to the speaker. Notice your own reaction and then quieten it and give your attention once more to the speaker.

Physiological noise from our own body grumbling through hunger or thirst. Feeling cold or too hot will distract us from listening well. Listening intentionally is an active skill. Ensure your physiological needs are cared for so that you can listen well to another.

2. Resist the urge to interrupt
When we interrupt another, the brain experiences the interruption in the same way the body experiences a physical assault. Interruption is like an assault on the brain. The brain is momentarily paralysed, before deciding what to do, the thoughts will be lost and we lose our momentum. Not only do we lose our thoughts, we lose time as it takes more time to reconnect with our thinking and consider afresh what we wanted to say.

Research from UC Irvine shows frequent interruptions can also lead to higher rates of exhaustion, stress-induced ailments, and a doubling of error rates. The impact of interruptions cannot be overstated, similarly when we are interrupted in an activity it will kill our momentum. When we start again on our task, we can’t simply pick up where we left off, we have to reorient ourselves, re-immerse, and re-gain our momentum.

Resist the urge to interrupt another when they are speaking. Ask yourself, how do I know that what I am about to say will be of greater value than what the person is about to think and say out loud? When in conversation with another, agree not to interrupt and give yourself equal time in sharing your thoughts and ideas. This way, you both know you will not be interrupted and you will have the opportunity to share your thoughts, feelings and ideas. This will save you time and generate greater quality outcomes.

3. Don’t fill the gap
The biology of listening reveals that we speak on average at 125 wpm and process information on average 400 wpm. We may listen just enough to get the gist of what someone is saying and then prepare our reply, make a diagnosis or offer an opinion, irrespective of whether it has been asked for. We may even jump to conclusions and simply make stuff up.
Adopt an open mindset and be patient allowing the speaker to complete their thinking. A great listener will listen to the end of the story.

“When you talk you are only repeating what you already know.
But if you listen, you may learn something new.”

– Dalai Lama

4. Get comfortable with silence
It can be uncomfortable to hold that space when someone goes quiet. Just because they are not speaking, it does not mean they are not thinking.

Given the biology of listening, you may have said something and it will take time for the other to process what you have said. To consider an answer to the question you have just posed. Allow them this time, be courageous in the silence and trust they will respond when you give them time and your attention that is free from judgement. Our brain can distort the constant of time. It might feel like minutes of silence for us as we await a response, and yet for the person thinking, the silence is golden enabling them to make recall information, make new neural connections and create a new thought or idea in that precious silence you held for them.

“Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.”
– Marcus Tullius Cicero

If you knew you could be comfortable in the silence, what would change for you and your listening?

5. Ask open questions
Asking good questions will engage others to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas. Asking open questions, those that do not reveal a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer will be more impactful and keep the speaker thinking and sharing their thoughts.

Laura Berman Fortgang, Author, Coach, Speaker, refers to WAQ questions, Wisdom Accessing Questions. They are all specific and succinct. They all begin with ‘What’.

  • What do you think?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • What stops you?
  • What alternatives do you have?
  • What one step could you take?
  • What did you learn?

6. See the potential and possibility in others
It is natural for us to want to fix the problem. We are wired that way, to solve problems. When an individual comes to you and shares their problem or challenge how do you see them?

  • Do you see them as a problem?
  • Do you see them as a person with a problem to fix?
  • Do you see them as a resourceful human being who has the capacity to fix their problem?

How you see the person is how you will you listen to them. Adopting a perspective that they are a resourceful human being capable of fixing their problem will generate more open questions in you in service of help them to think and see the the problem differently and come up with their own solution. When we listen in this way, to generate their best thoughts and ideas, they will feel more creative, courageous and confident and grow in the process.

7. Embrace difference
Resistance to the diversity of thinking from others with different lived experiences can reduce our capacity to listen well. Most often we want others to think just like us, to be just like us.
Nancy Kline in her latest book The Promise That Changes Everything – I’ll not interrupt you, reveals the paradox of difference: ‘I am just like you. I am not like you at all’. We are united by our humanity and equally celebrate our difference as unique human beings.

Embrace different perspectives, positively seek those with different lived experiences and consider that by expanding your curiosity and wonder about difference, the less polarised our thinking and greater understanding will emerge. To be a greater listener is not to agree, rather to accept and acknowledge that we are all different and can hold the difference through empathy and desire to understand, more than we are to be right.

In reality we can all listen deeply, we know the basics of listening, and like any skill, we can become better at it.

My encouragement to you is, don’t make an excuse for not listening well, rather make it your intention – listen to others as if it is the first time you have met them, with a learning mind set, a willingness to have your mind changed and a deep interest in who they are as a human being.

Thank you for listening!

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