In times of great uncertainty, the need to listen well becomes even more important, as listening is at the heart of effective communication. Done well, listening can build and nurture relationships, transform individuals and create breakthroughs. We all listen and yet most people have little or no training in how to do it well. This blog explores the listening process and how to improve listening at a deeper level.
When we listen, to what are we paying attention?
Many writers talk of the different levels of listening and four key ones can be summarised as follows:
When we are busy, it is hard to think that we have time really to listen and we often feel pressure-prompted to move at speed. We therefore interrupt and give advice far too quickly. Often in organisations, kudos is given to the person talking rather than the credit given to those who listen well and use their insights empathically.
However, as even political leaders recognise, there are times when listening at a much deeper level is extremely beneficial as it helps to create trust and confidence.
So, how do you get started?
If you want to become a better listener then start with yourself, and how you listen to what is going on at a deeper level within you. There is a parallel process at work here. If you notice what is going on for you, then you are much more likely to notice what happens in another person’s emotional world.
When we tune into ourselves, we start to understand some of the beliefs and patterns of thinking which impact on how we see others, and this also helps with uncovering our unconscious biases. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), is built on the premise that we all distort our thinking. One of the founding fathers of CBT – Albert Ellis – identified that most people are inclined to think in ways that are irrational and self-defeating. These beliefs like ‘I must be loved and approved of by everyone’ or ‘it’s easier to avoid problem than to confront or deal with them’ leads to feelings like procrastination, unassertive behaviour, passive aggression and poor self-esteem.
It may be that we do not consciously consider these beliefs, but these unconscious dynamics still play out in our interactions with others and can get in the way of how we listen. If, for instance, you are someone who does not like conflict, then how do you allow another to disagree with you and to hear their reasoning? How do you learn what frustrates the other person? Without expression, these feelings do not go away but can build and come out in much more damaging ways in the future.
Starting to understand yourself, and all the contradictions that make you unique, is essential pre-work to listening at a deeper level. It is only once we listen to ourselves at a deeper level, that we can listen deeply to others.
Some ideas for how to listen at a deeper level:
Of course, not all your interactions require listening at a deeper-level but it is worth developing these skills to ensure that you have such an ability when it is important. In some roles like consulting, coaching, facilitation, mediation and counselling, they are critical skills. These ideas create a much more conscious awareness of how you are in the world and indirectly help you to understand how others are also.
Executive Coach, Margaret Walsh has an extensive background in Human Resources working across all employment sectors, and understands the demands that leaders and managers face in these often stressful and uncertain times.
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Executive Coach & Coach Supervisor working at psychological depth in pragmatic ways.