[This is a transcript of the podcast]
How good is your active listening?
Hi. It’s Ruth here from Blue Pea POD, and today, I want to talk about what I think it takes to be good at listening. Which, let’s face it, is a crucial skill when we want to build strong relationships. So whether it’s that we’re coaching, whether it’s that we want to build a high-performing team, whether it’s that we want people to trust us, whatever it is, listening is a key quality.
But we’re not just talking about the basics of listening. We’re talking about really, really listening to everything. The minutiae. In essence, it’s just how aware are we of what is present or absent in that moment, and I mean, the most common way of talking about this is active listening, as opposed to not actively listening, passively listening, kind of waiting for the person to shut up, so that you can then say whatever pearl of wisdom you want to say.
Active Listening A Full On Sensory Experience
So then listening is a full-on sensory experience. We are looking at the person, paying full attention to their body language, their tone, their words. Is there congruence? Do they match? Or is there something that’s at odds here? I think one of the key ones is that as we are listening to somebody, we don’t interrupt. And let’s face it. That can be something of a challenge at times, particularly if it is a subject matter with which we are very passionate about or we have a very strong difference of opinion on. We can’t then wait to interrupt or talk over the person.
The Power of The Pause
So it really is about letting the person finish, say what it is they want to say. Which kind of leads to the next bit, which is never underestimate the power of the pause. Because people often turn around and say to me, “Oh, but Ruth. What I’m really worried about is that, you know, I ask somebody a question. They give me an answer. And if I’m listening to them, like proper listening, like you’re telling me I should, then when they finish talking, I won’t know what to say next.” And I’m like, “Well, if you’re full-on listening to everything they’re saying, it’s when they’re finished that then you know what’s the next thing you want to say, what’s the next question you want to ask.” Until then, you’re preoccupied in your head thinking, it’s the same as interrupting. You’re thinking about what to say next.
So in that pause, which for the other person is never going to feel as long as maybe it feels for you, if you get into that pause and just go, “Okay, having heard all of this, what’s the next thing I want to say? To add, to contribute. The question I want to ask.” Actually means you have more meaningful conversations.
Active Listening – A Route to Empathy
One of the other things I think it takes to be a good listener is that you show that you empathize. Empathy. We’re talking about a demonstration of appreciation for what they’re going through. We’re not saying that we understand or we know or we may or may not have felt something similar, but we are showing an empathy and a connection. We’re not criticizing. We’re not arguing. We’re not judging. We’re not, we’re not patronizing the person. We are just showing that we genuinely care for them and what they’re going through at this particular moment in time.
I often find that if people at least feel heard, listened to, that even if you don’t necessarily always say the correct word… there is saying the right thing but your body language being completely wrong that can be more infuriating, than somebody feeling you genuinely care about them, but then you somehow don’t say quite the right set of words.
Let Your Body Talk
Which leads me to body language. Actually pay attention to your body language when you’re talking to people. When you’re listening, what’s your body language saying?
I observe leaders when I’m training them in the arts of coaching and mentoring, and you know, sometimes they’re just not aware that as they’re listening to the person, if they’re kind of going, “Oh, God, you’re going into a lot of detail that I don’t want to know here.” Sometimes, their body language is actually communicating that. Their face may not necessarily be communicating that, but the rest of their body language is.
Or if they’re starting to get tense about what question do I ask next or something, they’ll stop and fiddle with their pen. And in fiddling with their pen, it’s like, what does the other person make that mean? And sometimes they make it mean that the pen fiddler is irritated or annoyed or nervous or unsure, and that may not be the message that … It may not be how we feel, but it also may not be the message that we want to communicate.
Congruent Body Language
So it’s about making sure that your body language is also empathetic, is also attentive, is supportive. It’s showing that you are present and there for the person. That this conversation matters. How many times have we had a conversation, or how many times has somebody, here’s the classic. You know, “how are you? How was your weekend?” Those kind of things. The social politeness. And we know, sometimes we just know the person’s asked us that, and it’s like, I’m not listening to your answer. I’ve just asked. And we go through this kind of polite social dog dance. But you know the person, just from their body language and everything else, you know the person’s not listening to your answer. So you could say absolutely anything, and they’d go, “Oh, lovely, lovely.” And then move on.
But equally you know the difference when someone really is paying full-on, close attention. And I think one of the other things that we have to remember is that, and this maybe relates with empathy, is that we, and particularly when we want to build more trust, people aren’t going to reveal to us what’s really going on if we reveal nothing about ourselves.
If we come across as nothing’s happening or we’re completely perfect or we’ve got it all totally and utterly sorted, or we’ve never ever screwed up at all in our entire life, or whatever else it is, it’s about being able to offer some level of self-disclosure, and again, do it in a way that is supportive and is meaningful for the other person.
We’re not offering too much. We’re not offering it too soon. It is about the self-disclosure, the vulnerability. And it’s about asking yourself why am I sharing this? In what way do I think it will help this person?
Because sometimes we can self-disclose, and it was for our own ends. It was to make us feel good. It wasn’t actually about helping the other person. Sometimes we can self-disclose and it was with the pure intent of helping the other person, but the response and feedback that we get is maybe it was a little too much or a little too soon, and this is just how we learn how to get better and better at it.
And that’s the listening. It’s not just, we do something, and it’s like we’re observing the reaction of what it is we’ve just done and course-correcting from there. But if we’re not fully listening, then it’s like the equivalent to thrashing around in a pool and hoping you’re going to make it to the other side.
So really, we’re listening with our mind. We’re listening with all our senses. We’re listening with our heart, our soul. In that bit of being fully present in that moment, having that level of awareness to what is. I love the phrase, “Awareness is the birthplace of possibility.” And if we have that level of awareness, which we get by that level of listening, then possibilities emerge that we could never in our head, just using our intellect, have ever worked out.
Sometimes, one of the challenges that people face is they get better at this level of listening, and they get better at asking questions, is they turn around and say … You know, my guys turn around and say, “Oh, you know. Thanks, but I obviously didn’t need to come and chat to you, didn’t need anything.” It’s like they didn’t seem to realize what I did, because the person came in, talked, I asked them a few questions. They worked out, they answered themselves. So they did it all themselves. And it is about letting go of the need to be seen to be doing all of those things, and just knowing that in the richness of somebody truly listening to you, being present to you, that, after a while, you do still want to have conversations with those people.
And they’ll come and maybe they will also start and get into things that are of more and more importance to them or the problems that are bigger for them, complexities and uncertainties that they’re still attempting to resolve. Or they’ll come to you with ideas and creations that they feel are going to be more honoured. Doesn’t necessarily mean to say it’s the best idea or the best creation, but they feel that they can share that with you, and so, again, there is more possibility.
And if you want it to work, if you want relationships, I guess, in which there is a high level of trust and you and them can go on to create things that maybe you didn’t first think was possible, then active listening is a good skill to practice getting better at.
Until next time. Go be the difference in leadership.