PAUSE - the silent opportunity of connecting with your audience
December 1, 2014
Women's March to Freedom
March 8, 2017
The power of listening
January 1, 2016
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you know; But when you listen, you may learn something new."
We spend most of our lives in our heads evaluating situations, unraveling problems, listening to repeated positive and negative messaging, worrying about how we come across and if we are liked or respected.
We speak to be understood, to get our ideas, thoughts and needs across; to move things forward, often mistaking this for being the main form of communication. We wonder perhaps why others do not hear us, understand what we have to say or empathise with our unmet needs. The reality is that all this inner and outer talk is only one form of communication and this form of communication centres on one person and one person only - You!
What we often don’t take into account is how important listening is to communication.
Before we explore the power of listening and it’s importance in communication, let’s look at the difference between hearing and listening.
If you walked into your work place, a social event or even a park for example, you would hear a varying degree of sound or noise. Most of which would be in the background, unobserved by your conscious mind. It is only when you choose to focus on a particular sound that you shift your attention to listening.
So, hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. Listening, however, is something you consciously decide to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning of these words and sounds.
With ordinary listening, we hear what someone says to us and our attention is very often on: “do I agree or disagree with what is being said”. All too often, we are planning our defense, our retort or our counter argument. We pick up on a word and take it down an avenue we choose to explore, unaware that this may not be what the other person has meant at all. The focus is once again on us and our agenda.
With genuine listening, you put the spotlight on the other person. You put yourselves in their shoes, listen not only to what they have to say but how they say it – their facial expression, their body language, their gestures and their vocal tonality. We focus on what is being said and what is not being said. What is behind the words? We are curious, interested, and open. How can I understand, connect and get into their world? How can I build this relationship?
One of the main reasons that most of us struggle with genuine listening is that we have too much noise going on in our heads. Our minds are constantly buzzing with activity and there is very little mental and emotional space to hear what the other person is saying. If we are able to put our thoughts, needs and internal dialogues aside even for a few moments and focus on the other person, we will be able to create a space where we can genuinely hear what they are saying and respond to what is arising in them.
So how can you do this?
In order to really listen to others, you need to listen to yourselves first; be aware of what is alive in you and notice when it pulls us away from being present with the other person. It is your intention and attention to the other person that will make the difference.
So, what if before an important meeting, conversation or negotiation, you took time to listen to yourself first – to hear your needs? What if you decided to put aside any preconceived ideas you might have about that person and stay open to what s/he had to share in each moment?
I remember working with a client of mine who said that it was so hard for her to listen to her colleague because every time they met, the negative thoughts and images of him would emerge and get in the way of her hearing what he brought to the table. It was no wonder they struggled to resolve conflicts and find positive ways forward.
Learning to leave all those negative images and thoughts outside the door even for that short time and listen with an open mind is a place where true communication occurs. It is not surprising that we are given two ears and one mouth. Perhaps to listen twice as much as we speak?
Here are 3 major benefits of listening:
Understanding the other party. How can we expect to influence or change someone else’s mind if we don’t understand it?
Connecting with another person so as to build rapport, trust and genuine care about that person.
Being heard - giving others our true attention, presence and time thereby enabling them to want to hear us too.
So the next time you find yourself fiercely defending your position or jumping in on someone’s unfinished sentence, stop yourself. Remember the power listening holds in connecting you to the other person’s world so you too, in turn, can share your world with them in the true act of communication.