Listening. It is something we do all day everyday. But let me ask you, how well do you really listen when you are talking with someone?
Did you know that there are 4 levels of listening? In fact, when researching this post I found over 20 types of listening but for the sake of your time, I will focus on the core ones.
Non-listening: when you are physically present but your mind is not. You miss what the person is saying as your
mind is elsewhere.
Passive listening: when you are both physically and mentally present, but you get distracted in your thoughts, possibly unrelated to the conversation at hand (you start thinking about something that happened earlier or something of concern).
Evaluative listening: when you are engaged in the conversation and present but interrupt with your ideas and thoughts that you would like to share. As the other person is talking you start formulating what you are going to say next, thus not completely listening to them.
Active listening: here you are completely present with the other person. Your thoughts are “switched off” and all you are focused on is what they are saying. Furthermore, you are picking up on cues such as their body language and tone of voice and being able to read between.
When was the last time when you were in active listening mode? It is a skill that requires practice and self-awareness. We need to be completely present in order to actively listen to someone else. Truth is many of us (myself included) will float between evaluative and passive listening whether we admit it or not. We have lots going on and our minds often don’t stop.
However, there are many benefits to active listening. You are able to truly hear what the other person is saying or conversely be heard (and how good does that feel?), we remember more of the detail of the conversation, the conversation is more meaningful and our relationship with that person is deeper.
To build your active listening skills here are some tips to strengthen that muscle:
1. Be present. Be completely in the moment with that person/ people. When you feel your mind wondering bring it back to the moment you are in. Essentially you are practicing mindfulness.
2. Switch off. Turn off your mobile phone and any other possible distractions. Ideally if you can switch of your brain to focus and be in the moment, but that can be hard, so refer to point 1.
3. Be aware of the cues. It’s not just what they are saying (i.e. the words) but how they say it. Meaning, what is their tone of voice like? What is their body language telling you? Communication is multi-layered and reading people is important.
4. Shorter meetings. We can’t hold our attention for hours on end. In fact the brain works in 45 minute cycles (on average), so try to have shorter meetings of 30-45 minutes where possible to maximise your brain time.
5. 2 ears 1 mouth. Clichéd but true – use it as a reminder that we have more ears to listen with and only 1 mouth to talk with…
6. Mindfulness meditation. This is a great technique to train your mind to focus on one thing at a time.
So today, in your next conversation after reading this, start practicing your active listening skills. Really be present. Watch and listen for the cues. What are they really saying? And reflect afterwards on the conversation. Was it more effective, more meaningful?
Natalie Goldman is an experienced business leader and has over 20 years of experience in across numerous industries throughout APAC. Her focus has been in HR, Learning & Development and Organisational Development.
In recent years, Natalie set out to realise her passion for economically empowering women by starting her own business to assist female entrepreneurs. Natalie is driven by making a difference in this world and volunteers as a Living Fearlessly Leader at Global Sisters and sits on the board of the omen’s Indigenous Network.
Natalie works flexibly full time as CEO at FlexCareers, and is the mother of 2 fun-loving kids.