Listening is one of the hardest traits to master. It take patience, discipline, and even courage to really listen to what the other person is saying. Listening is a sign of respect that is essential to building connections with others.
What is listening?
Listening is a form of communication that defines an active process of getting a meaning of what is being said prior to responding. When rushed, busy or under pressure many of us hear what we expect to hear instead of what is being said.
The best listeners are not those that sit silently and nod. Instead, the best listeners are those that actively listen and periodically ask questions that promote inquiry and insight. Through asking questions the conversation becomes more engaging for both the listener and the receiver. Questions will also show the speaker that the listener has heard what has been said, comprehends the message, and cares to request additional information.
In conversations where disagreement takes place, it is not easy listen without reacting or overreacting. Disagreeing with someone does not mean that the individual is not listening. This also means that when someone is in agreement with the other person, it does not mean that he or she is listening. In situations of conflict, remaining calm and choosing to listen will show the other person that their needs and issues are being heard.
Levels of listening
An article by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman published on the Harvard Business Review, explains that there are six levels of listening. Some conversations require a higher level of listening skill and focus. In level I, the listener aims to create a safe environment where difficult, complex, and emotional issues can be discusses. In level II, the listener aims to clear distractions and connect with the speaker while making frequent eye-contact. At this level (II), the speaker will feel heard and the listener will be able to influence the listener’s attitude and feelings. In level III, the listener aims to understand the ideas and asks questions that restate their understanding, thus ensuring that the message was accurately received. In level IV, the listener aims to listen through their eyes and their ears by looking for non-verbal cues. Non-verbal cues include facial expressions, perspiration, gestures, posture, and many other body signals. In level V, the listener aims to understand the speaker’s emotions and feelings about the topic at hand. The listener identifies, acknowledges, empathizes, and validates the speaker’s feelings in a non-judgmental, supportive way. In level VI, the listener aims to clarify the speaker’s assumptions while offering a new approach or light to the issue at hand. At this level it is important for the listener not to takeover the conversation, instead the listener should offer ideas and thoughts about the topic that could be useful to the other individual.
Being supportive builds trust
Creating an environment where a positive conversation takes place and where differences can be discussed, is the essence of good listening. To create such an environment, the listener must show the other person that he or she is being heard through active listening. The other person will respond by mirroring this positive behavior and listening themselves. A cooperative relationship will develop, where the two individuals have a feedback flow. This enables individuals to combat negative feelings that arise when people feel they are unheard. Being supportive through a debate shows respect to the other person. This allows individuals to feel comfortable in expressing deferring perspectives, and ultimately thinking through ideas that can create great benefits to the team and company overall.
Not knowing the answer
As a product manager, I find myself disappointed when I am unable to solve an issue that relates to my product; however, I have learned that knowing the answer to an issue instantaneously is not the only path to restore the customer’s satisfaction. In some cases, by simply asking questions while showing thoughtful inquiry, and explaining that I will do my best to get back with the customer with a resolution in a timely manner has yielded great results. In those situations, the customer was understanding, patient, and even expressed gratitude for being heard. By showing the customer that I understood their source of frustration, the customer felt a sense of support and even relief.
Good listening takes practice and starts with the person actively avoiding predicting what the other person is about to say, waiting for the other person to finish speaking, staying focused on the conversation, having good eye-contact, and being aware of the other individual are all key to becoming a great listener.
Have you worked on improving your listening habits? Please share your story.