Have you ever said, “Why won’t you just listen?” or had someone say it to you? If yes, you are definitely not alone. Being a good listener isn’t always easy. While someone is talking, we are often thinking of what we want to say next, or distracted by a squirrel off in the distance.
There is nothing wrong with you, or with the person not listening – it is called being human.
This lesson is all about becoming a better listener. The best way to do this is by becoming self-aware.
What is your listening default style?
Let’s find out where you land and how you can enhance your listening skills.
Level 1: Listening to Yourself
This is the me, myself and I zone. When a person listens at level 1, they are actually listening to the sound of their own inner voice. They may hear the words of the other person, but they are not really listening. They are aware of their own opinions, stories, and judgments — their own feelings, needs, and what they want to say next.
They may be nodding, making you think they are listening, but inside they are saying things like:
“I had an experience just like that, I’m going to tell them my experience.”
“This is starting to bore me.”
“I really need to get home to watch Netflix.”
“I’m hungry; what should I make for dinner?”
“I wonder if I should cut my hair?”
“I think I’ll check my Facebook account and see how many likes that post got.”
Don’t worry if you hear yourself in these examples, we all listen at this level, and it is perfectly normal. I’m just as guilty. Your needs and opinions matter. Where you want to ensure that you are not doing this is when someone is trying to have a difficult conversation with you, or you with them. You want to be able to clearly hear what is sometimes underneath what they are saying. And you also want to pay closer attention when dealing with a conflict situation so that you can reflect back to them what they are saying.
“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize what you heard is not what I meant.”
Level 2: I’m Really Focused On What You Are Saying
At level 2 you are laser focused. There is an invisible cord from you to the person you are speaking to. All of the attention is on them.
Imagine that you are in a loud crowed room and you are having a deep conversation with someone. You are focused on what they are saying, taking it all in, but you are blocking out all the conversations that are happening around you. When you feel yourself getting distracted, bring yourself back to the conversation by asking questions, or even repeating back what the other person said.
“Sorry, it is loud in here, you said that you have been struggling since you started your new job. Is it because of the learning curve or do you feel like it might be more than that?”
Level 2 listening is great in the workplace because in order for the conversation to be as effective as possible, you need to be able to stay focused at this level, especially if you are dealing with a difficult client, co-worker, or boss.
A great way to bring yourself back into focus is to remember this acronym when you want to interrupt with your own opinion or story. W.A.I.T – Why Am I Talking? When you feel yourself falling back into level 1 listening, use this helpful chart and consider the questions before beginning.
And the best place to listen is level 3.
Level 3: I’m Listening, I’m Hearing, I’m Feeling You
At this level you are taking in everything. Your energy, their energy, and the way it connects you. You are so focused that you can feel when the energy shifts, you can “hear” undertones in the person’s voice, like anger, frustration, happiness, and even an attitude shift.
In this state you are so in your zone, and their zone that you are aware of everything that is going on.
Have you ever gone into a room and felt the energy shift. That is what I’m talking about. You can feel the mood, you can sense a tone even if it is subtle and you know when you might need to pivot the conversation to have a greater impact. Have you ever said to someone who wasn’t picking up the vibe of what they were saying and said, “Dude, read the room!” This is that level that I’m talking about. Simply put, you are reading the room. You can sense what is landing and what isn’t. You can feel where the conversation is going based on what the person is saying and the energy you are feeling.
Take stand-up comedians as an example. They are expert level 3 listeners. They know when a joke has landed or just bombed. This is the sense of how things are being received, not being received, or whether the energy is getting higher or lower.
There is an intuition that happens here where you will be able to tap into what needs to be said or done next. When someone says, “That’s it, you said exactly what I needed to hear”, it is most likely because you were tuned into them at this level of listening.
This level takes practice, but it is so great to master because you can pick up as much information as you need that will have the greatest impact on the conversation you are having. As a coach, I have to practice listening at this level so that I can tune into my client at the deepest level. I often find myself saying, “I know you didn’t say this, but I’m getting the sense that you meant this…or are feeling this…” 99% of the time my intuition is correct.
Just like level 2, this is great for workplace meetings, having difficult conversations, and so amazing in relationships. Imagine never hearing again, “You never listen!” Not only will you listen to what they say, you will feel what they are saying and perhaps not saying.
What Is Your Listening Default?
From experience, where do your listening strengths lie? Are you level 1, 2 or 3 by default? We all fall in all three categories, so you might be all 3 or tend to go towards one level. If you want to know where your comfort zone of listening is, here are some questions that I ask in an exercise I give in my Enhance Your Positivity In The Workplace workshop. The exercise is simply speaking for 1 full minute without ever saying me, or I. And the listener can’t say anything. They can nod, but not a peep. Then they have to switch and we discuss how they felt.
Which role is easier for you, being the speaker, or the listening? Why?
How would you feel listening without being able to ask questions or contribute your own thoughts?
How would you feel speaking without being able to check in with your listener?
If you have realized that you need to master listening, how can you phrase your communications to focus better on the other person?