How to Listen
1. Internal Voice
We spend more time listening to ourselves than to the party in front of us. While our brain is taking in the data, our internal voice constantly runs a monologue that we don’t even notice – assessing, judging, relating, and making sense of whatever is happening. “Tell me something I don’t know.” “Is there a point in here somewhere?” “I’m not prepared.” “It’s important that I speed this along.” It becomes even louder when we are stressed, or emotion is high.
Before you can listen well to anyone else, tune into your own station and listen to the internal dialogue. What am I saying? What am I feeling? Once you notice, it calms down and murmurs instead of shouts. Noticing brings awareness, awareness brings calmness. Add some deep breaths to help balance the emotions and you immediately have more space to listen to someone else. This can be done before going into situations but also on the fly. A small change that will bring big results.
When you aren’t focused inward, you can be present outward. When you are calm, you have the capacity to notice, to connect, and listen in a comprehensive way. Desire to be calm. You don’t have to lose your intensity, it’s not an either/or scenario. When you are calm, you calm others, which brings out their best thinking. Isn’t that what you want?
And those of you who are talkers or who naturally dominate discussions, please realize that no one will see you as calm, regardless of your demeanor. Strive for more balance between talking and listening. It will be a huge step for those that work regularly with you.
There is a reason behind everything each of us do or say. You have cultivated great curiosity about data, facts, information, scenarios, strategies, or you would not be in these senior roles. Become just as curious about how someone is expressing themselves, or not. Where they start a discussion, or how they end. Why whatever they are saying is so important to them. The emotions they are feeling. When you have this deep curiosity, a world of information becomes available to you.
Questions are meaningless without true curiosity. Window dressing that others see through. Questions fueled by curiosity make others feel heard. They can tell that you are sincerely trying to get what they are saying, even if they don’t say it well. You can change the arc of a discussion with a question. There are times and places for declarations and advocacy, but questions hold far more power. They allow for decisions and actions to be built together, which is how alignment and commitment are built.
5. All the Senses
Hear beyond what is being said. Notice the small hesitations or the filler words, the tone. Notice the hands shifting, the stillness. Each of us has emotional habits of expression that immediately are obvious upon astute observation. Interpreting them may take some time but with practice, you can see who is truly confident, who is unsure, feeling vulnerable, skeptical and so on. Calmness facilitates your ability to tap into this vast array of information.
No one changes habits without practice. These points are to awaken you to a new mindset about how to listen and to create a path. Now it takes practice. You will feel uncomfortable, expect it, and congratulate yourself that you are on the right track. The good news is there are unlimited opportunities to practice. Review these points, give yourself a grade at the end of the day, make it a part of your work. You listen all day long – you might as well be great at it.