The Power of Listening
The Power Of Listening is a module I developed as part of the Paths To Organizational Influence class that I teach through the Professional Development Center at University of Texas at Austin. I’ve rolled it out and offer it now as a lunch & learn session for groups and organizations.
Recently, I had a wonderful experience presenting this information to a group of professionals during their lunch break at their workplace. I had always thought that the power of listening was that it increased communication effectiveness, and it definitely does that. However, my time with this group and they way they asked questions led me to an additional conclusion that I hadn’t considered before. Active listening, which is one of the names for this powerful communication technique, helps to increase mindful awareness. Each time you consciously use active listening methods, you create an open space for your mind to be focused in the present moment.
What Is Active Listening?
When interacting, people often are not listening attentively. They may be distracted, thinking about other things, or thinking about what they are going to say next (the latter case is particularly true in conflict situations or disagreements). Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding to others, focusing attention on the speaker. Suspending one’s own frame of reference, suspending judgment and avoiding other internal mental activities are important to fully attend to the speaker.
Did you get that last part? “Suspending one’s own frame of reference, suspending judgment and avoiding other internal mental activities are important to fully attend to the speaker.”
At the heart of it, that’s the aim of active listening… to give your full attention to the speaker while suspending your judgment and other mental activities.
Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says that effective people develop the habit of seeking first to understand, and then they seek to be understood. When it comes to listening, this means centering your full attention on the speaker so you that you can truly hear and understand the person. He says, “When you really listen to someone in depth until they are understood, you are communicating their worth, their potential. You are affirming them. It is so therapeutic, so healing that they cannot fight you, and they gradually become more and more open.” (http://youtu.be/HUxi-Zc45tA)
Yes, we all like being heard. When you are being fully and attentively listened to, don’t you feel respected – don’t you feel understood? Additionally, the state he describes – “they cannot fight you, and they gradually become more and more open” – happens because you are modeling for them. You shift the energy of the moment. You are open and so this allows them to trust and become open, too.
Consciously Practicing Active Listening
The group and I discussed how the methods of active listening might already come naturally to them. In fact, when they broke into pairs to do an exercise for one of the verbal techniques of active listening, I observed (and pointed out) that just about everyone unconsciously used various nonverbal methods of active listening.
However, now that they know the four primary methods for active listening, they will be consciously observing themselves whenever they listen. Now, they can actually improve their listening skills by simply bringing awareness to how they are communicating – how they are listening.
4 Primary Methods For Active Listening
Below are the four primary methods for active listening. Three of them are verbal in nature, one of them is a nonverbal method.
1. Paraphrasing – to confirm understanding
Paraphrasing is a way to confirm you understand what the other person is saying by rephrasing it.
Speaker: I don’t understand. One minute she tells me to do this. The next minute she tells me to do another thing, and it’s just the opposite.
Listener: It sounds like she really confuses you.
2. Interjections – to confirm your focus is on the conversation
You can use specific interjections while being careful that you don’t interrupt. During pauses, you can say a simple, “Mmm” or “Ah ha” or “I hear you” from time to time.
3. Clarifying Questions – to avoid misunderstanding
If you miss something the other person said, or if you don’t really understand, don’t pretend that you do. If you get lost, say “Sorry, I didn’t get that. What did you just say?” Pretending that you understand when you don’t will usually only lead to confusion and misunderstanding. It could also lead to the other person feeling like you don’t care enough to be focused on him or her during the conversation.
4. Body Language
Did you know that 93% of your communication is not what you say… it’s your facial expressions, your body position and your tone of voice? To demonstrate good active listening skills, use this powerful communication factor. Position your body language to reflect the speaker’s body language.* If the other person’s hands are folded and placed on the table before him or her, do the same.
If the person’s ankles are crossed, try to do the same. You can show the other person that you are listening and focused on the conversation by nodding in response to what he or she is saying, by maintaining eye contact, and by varying your facial expressions, such as using an eyebrow raise or smiling.
For other great advice and information about body language in communication, check out the book, Let Me See Your Body Speak by Jan Hargrave.
*Exception: Is the other person’s body language closed? For example, maybe his or her arms are folded, which usually indicates an unwillingness to talk. Of course, you won’t want to fold your arms too. When you’re trying to get someone to open up to you, use an open body posture, such as hands open, relaxed, visible and unfolded. You can also try to relax them with soothing statements such as “I’m here for you.” or “It seems like you’re upset. Let me help you.”
The Power of the Now
Whenever I teach The Power Of Listening, from now own, I will be sure to point out that besides increasing your communication effectiveness, active listening brings you into the present moment. It brings you into a full awareness of what is happening right here and right now. Even if temporarily, you suspend your thoughts and worries about what is happening in the future… what bills have to be paid, what work needs to be done at your desk or where the kids have to be at 4pm for soccer practice. You suspend your thoughts and regrets about the past… what if I had done it that way, what did he think when I said that yesterday or I forgot to pick up the dry cleaning this morning.
It’s what Eckhart Tolle would call the “power of the now.” He rightly points out that the past and the future are mere illusions and that there’s no real power in those time conceptions. What happened yesterday is no longer reality because it is over and gone. You have no power to change it either. The future hasn’t happened yet, so it’s not real yet. The only reality that you can control and where there’s any power at all is in the here and now.
When you practice the methods for active listening, you have to be present-focused or you are not performing active listening. Each time you practice, you are waking up your awareness. Your mind must empty to some degree so that it can be open to listen and truly hear the other who is speaking. The power of listening is that you connect better with the other person with whom you are communicating, and the power of listening is that it helps you grow in awareness of the power of the now.
Angela Loëb helps people rediscover and use their gifts so they can bring who they are to what they do. To learn more, please visit: www.insyncresources.com