Effective listening is at the heart of communication. We do more listening than reading, writing or speaking yet research shows we listen with 25% efficiency. Not surprisingly, “be a better listener” frequently shows up as a top coaching goal for my clients who want to transform how they work through greater emphasis on relationships.
To help my clients improve their listening skills we first explore what’s getting in the way of listening. They find it’s beneficial to identify the habits they want to stop or manage at the same time they are defining new ones to fill the gap.
Three particular behaviors are problematic:
- Anticipating We hear the speakers words and sounds, but focus on what we think they are going to say. I’ve worked with well-meaning leaders who fall into this trap. Having “been there done that,” they believe an employee is telling them something they already know. Wanting to be helpful and expedient (emphasis on the latter) they fail to listen effectively and miss a development opportunity to engage their employee in problem-solving and decision making.
- Judging This involves jumping to a conclusion about the person or what they are saying. This often plagues confident leaders with strong opinions and a competitive nature who quickly assess the “opposition” and formulate a strategy. By drawing a conclusion too soon versus remaining curious and open, this leader may squelch promising ideas or potentially set the stage for a defensive response.
- Reacting emotionally We all experience triggers of some form and the subsequent release of stress hormones in our brain guarantees that we won’t listen well. Even when we think we are listening – it’s words and sounds. Stress and scarcity (budget/time) are common triggers to some degree for us all, but we typically experience an emotional trigger when something we value is at risk. Whether we respond assertively “in their face” or passively, there are emotions at work that keep us from listening.
Do any of these seem familiar?
As we navigate the world of work and relationships, we all experience these challenges. In my client work I’ve found that we have “non-listening” tendencies. Understanding yours requires awareness, reflection, and feedback. An excellent place to start is to ask people you trust… colleagues, friends, a partner, a child or spouse what they experience conversing with you. Ask what advice they have for you to improve your listening.
Hear what they have to say (no anticipating, judging, or reacting emotionally) and say thank you! (props to Marshall Goldsmith’s feedforward approach). Put their recommendations into practice and notice the impact.
I take my own medicine. My 21- year old daughter (toughest critic of all) says I’m a good listener, but she recommended that I wait more before piping in with advice. Thank you, sweetie!