Getting yourself heard with active listening
Updated: Mar 7
When was the last time you felt heard...really heard?
When was the last time you felt you were drifting off in your own thoughts and were accused of not listening?
Most people do not learn the skill of 'active listening' as it is not something they teach in school. It is a really helpful skill for both personal and professional life and can solve a great deal of communication difficulties before they arise. What would have happened if the stormtroopers in star wars felt they were listened to and the communication process was two way rather than just being given instructions would the film have been different!??
As a coach who has spent over 18 years helping others to build on their interpersonal skills I am an expert in enabling individuals and groups to gain skills in active listening. This makes for a more effective business and personal life. My article includes some of the coaching and training strategies I use to ensure all parties get heard.
So what is active listening and how does it differ from hearing?
Hearing is perceiving sound by the ear. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Consciously being the key word. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences. If you are a non hearing person then listening will take place through other forms of communication such as sign language - it still takes place as you actively communicate with each other in a way that uses a great deal of non verbal - and the brain needs to consciously take it all in.
Listening is responding to others in a way that shows you have been listening. It requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences. It is an active rather than a passive process. It involves a sharing of thoughts and feelings about issues, ideas, reflecting back on what is going on for both parties. It involves asking questions to totally engage.
So how does this work in practice? How can this help your relationships at work and home? Here is a mariposa coaching 3 step approach:
Make eye contact and pay attention to the speaker's body language, voice tone, facial expression.
Keep your brain engaged on the other person and what they are saying.
2) Demonstrate you are listening
Use your body language - smile, nod as appropriate and check that it is 'open'. In the work I do on building rapport with coachees we work through how to check that you are using similar body language, posture and gesture to create even more connection.
Use encouraging comments and noises. This is particularly important if you are on the phone.
3) Give a response
Reflective listening means you are reflecting back what has been said such as 'it seems like you are saying xyz'..or 'can I check I have heard you right, the board meeting is at 2pm and you want me to give a presentation?'
Summarising/paraphrasing is a strong way to ensure the other person knows you have heard and understood. 'So what you are saying is you don't think it is a good idea to get a puppy right now but you are not adverse to it in 6 months time?...
Be as open and honest in your response as you can be whilst being mindful of the other person's beliefs and views.
Be assertive with your view point - respectful and appropriate.
Model the behaviour you wish to see yourself, in your team, in your workplace, as a client etc.
Think about the outcome of listening, you don't have to put a great deal of effort in and the increase in understanding, rapport, trust is enormous. You listen to ask questions to find out more about the other person. The more active these are the more you find out about the other person or team. You can use this skill to find out what solutions would work to address problems and build or maintain a level of trust and rapport. This in turn encourages the other person to do the same to you. We can't change other people but if we change how we interact then this models the behaviour we would like to receive.
So this may seem like common sense, right? Or even a simple skill however over the years I have found that not feeling heard accounts for most of the difficulties with communication.
So we have looked at how to actively listen and why we actively listen but we still don't get it right. We have busy lives, we think we know what the other person is going to say as we think to ourselves 'I have heard this all before'. We would rather be getting on with our work than hearing how the last team meeting went or the grand prix is more important to us than a conversation about cat worming treatment. If you are my teenager you will probably be thinking 'whatever' AND rolling your eyes - two triggers in our house for blocks to active listening!
Here are some of the blocks, see if you recognise these in your own communication style - if so you know what you need to work on!!
Blocks to active listening
Mindreading - you assume you know what is coming next or what the other person is saying rather than truly hearing them
Filtering - in psychology terms we use filters like on a camera to hear what we want to hear, often running it through a beliefs system. So you may fall into the trap of only listening to what you want to and ignoring what is important to the other person.
Judging - you may have heard the saying never judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes - ask yourself if you are falling into the category of making an assumption as opposed to seeing it from their perspective.
Tuning out - this is very common and a way to avoid this is to ask questions to check you have heard correctly what they are saying, it could be that the conversation is full of a great deal of information that you are just not getting or you are into fantasy mode!
Advising - have you found yourself falling into the category of advising the other person with a whole load of solutions which can be helpful but can also detract from truly listening to what they are saying?
Walking away - 'talk to the hand!' or being in another room!
Getting into conflict - there is a cross between healthy conflict where you put forward what you think and feel and arguments where you feel your emotions increase and you stop listening to the other person.
Needing to win - check your intent - are you listening with respect to find out about the other person or are you needing to win?
Changing the subject - putting up counter arguments or blaming the other person. This could be there are areas you find uncomfortable and we have a tendancy to not want to hear negative feedback so we can go on a derail mission. (check out my blog on feedback that builds confidence).
People pleasing - rather than hearing the other person's concerns going into placate mode. This can be helpful if you need to apologise or change your behaviour but check your intent if it is to get the conversation over quickly with in order to watch the penalty shoot out!
In order to increase your skills to get heard and to hear others start to recognise when you are using active listening and when you are using blocks to listening. Check out over the next week which ones you are using and start to be an even more engaged, empathic listener. This in turns help to develop the listening skills of the other person so they hear you. It's a two way street.
If you find that this article has got you thinking and you wish to develop your interpersonal skills in listening or in other areas for your personal or professional life please get in touch. I offer a free 20 mins phone consultation.