#036 - ARE YOU LISTENING? Listening, really good, intensive, focused listening is powerful. One of the reasons why developing good listening skills is so difficult is that we don't listen to understand one another. We tune out others when we should be listening to them. How well do YOU listen to others? Join Dr. Charles Boyer for a special episode on developing good listening skills.
Hello and welcome to Keys for New Leaders, a podcast Serving Leaders Serving Others. This is your host, Dr. Charles Boyer, but my friends call me Charlie, and that’s most certainly YOU, my friend. Welcome! I’m so glad you’ve joined us for this podcast. Serving Leaders Serving Others is what we’re all about. Perhaps I should have made it more of a point to emphasize serving NEW leaders. That’s really who this podcast is aimed at – NEW leaders. That hit home to me recently when I read an article by Taylor Borden, who reported that a whopping 82% of managers today were promoted to their leadership position without any kind of training on how to handle the new role. 82% -- that’s mind-boggling! Congratulations, my friend! You are among the 18% who ARE getting some leadership development through this podcast. Thank You for listening!
Churches, clubs, civic organizations – you name it and chances are that people are elected, appointed, or cajoled into leadership positions without any preparation, or maybe a one-day workshop at best. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone why people are reluctant to serve as leader – or they accept and get burned out and quit. The chances of real success without any preparation are slim indeed. Remember the old saying: People tend to avoid what they’re hit with!
So, that’s why this series of podcasts presents different topics and things to think about that will help you become a better leader. It takes lots of time and lots of practice, just like anything else that looks easy but isn’t: playing the violin, kicking a field goal, or climbing a fourteener. I hope that some of these ramblings are helpful to you. Are you listening?
And that brings us to Episode #36: ARE YOU LISTENING? That’s the title of this one: ARE YOU LISTENING? We had a previous episode (#4) about the importance of being a leader who listens well, especially NEW leaders. But a once-over-lightly podcast episode is hardly enough to learn good listening skills. It’s like saying, “Sure, I can play the piano. I learned how last night.” Now, come on, you know it takes lots and lots of practice to really learn how to play. Well, come to think of it, so does learning to listen, so it seemed to me that another session was due about the need for ALL to develop better listening skills – self included! Good listeners are rare creatures, it seems.
Let’s make a distinction between hearing and listening. We hear so much more than we listen. Think about it. Our ears hear all sorts of sounds. These days, our ears take in all sorts of sounds whether we want them or not. Silence is rare. We’ve become very good at filtering, ignoring or tuning out sounds we really don’t want – traffic noise, barking dogs, annoying commercials – well, I could go on and on here. You get the idea. We tune out what we really don’t want to hear. The problem is that we tune out others when we should be listening to them.
ARE YOU LISTENING? Listening, as opposed to hearing, that is, really good, intensive, focused listening is powerful. Listening has been described as the JUDO of communication skills – it is gentle, flexible, and really powerful. And, just like being highly skilled at Judo, good listening is just as hard a skill to master. One of the reasons why developing good listening skills is so difficult is, says Stephen Covey, that we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply.
Ouch! Oh, how true that is! How many times have you been listening to someone and in your mind you start preparing your reply? Don’t bother to count the times – there are too many to count!
Let’s turn it around. Does this sound familiar to you? You are talking with a friend and she says, “Why, I know just what you mean. Just last week, I was talking with Sally, and she said…”. Now tell me, how well were you really being listened to? What you were saying went out the window because your listener began thinking of something and someone else, and a whole different conversation from last week. How well do you think you were listened to? And how did that make you feel?
Or how about this one? You are talking with your team leader and he interrupts, “That reminds me, where are we with the Amalgamated Widget contract?” While you were talking, his mind jumped to something else entirely. How well was he listening to you? And how did that make you feel?
These aren’t true examples. I made them up. Yet both of these horrible examples show that the person who was supposed to be listening wasn’t really listening. They were listening to reply, or waiting for a moment to jump to some other topic altogether. How well were you being listened to? And how did that make you feel?
Both of these made-up examples also show that the lack of good listening tends to undermine good relationships, whether friend-to-friend or leader-to-team member. Seth Godin wrote that relationships are a result of the ability to listen. When we listen, truly listen, we earn trust and create connection. Think about it – how differently might you feel about the people in the previous two examples if you were really listened to? Most likely, you would feel a bit more valued, a bit more respected, a bit more trusting, rather than cut off or ignored. Remember: people tend to avoid what they’re hit with.
Why is good listening so difficult for us? I think one of the reasons is that really good listening takes time, concentrated effort, and patience – all things we don’t tend to value in this hurry-up, finish-up world of ours today. We want instant answers and easy solutions to every problem. And we expect the same from others. Listen, Respond, and Move On. Listen, Respond, and Move On.
Sorry to disappoint you, my friend, but it just doesn’t work that way. You really have to work at it to build good listening skills, mostly because there are so many bad listening habits to overcome.
Take a look at lists of key listening skills and you’ll find this one at or very near the top of each list: PAY ATTENTION! Pay Attention – so simple yet so complex. There are a lot of moving parts to that simple two-word statement. Here are just a few of those parts:
· Show that you are listening by giving the speaker your undivided attention. That’s so hard to do. Don’t look around, don’t fiddle with your pen, and definitely not your phone!
· Stay focused on the speaker. Show interest in the person and what ‘s being said. Nod your head when appropriate. Consider natural eye contact – unless that is considered rude in your culture.
· Be quiet. Don’t interrupt. Allow for silence. Give the speaker time to finish their thought. And don’t start thinking of your reply while the other person is speaking.
These are just a few parts of paying attention – real, undivided attention. I’m sure you can add others from your own experience. Paying Attention is one of the most important skills you can bring to the experience of truly listening to another. Are You Listening?
There are several types of listening that I call “negative” listening – you are not really listening much at all, although you claim to be. One is called “Distracted” listening, when you say you are listening, but you’re really focused on something else. Some call it multi-tasking. I call it nonsense. To me, it says, “Go ahead, I’m listening…” while you’re obviously focused on something else. Another type is “Competitive” listening, when you are competing for the spotlight of the conversation. We think about what to say next, rather than listening to what the other person is saying. We interrupt or talk over the other person. Happens all the time, I’m sad to say.
There are several types of what I call “positive” listening, and these are what we should be focusing our attention on, rather than the negative examples:
· Active Listening – when we actively check for understanding by listening closely, then restating or paraphrasing what we heard, reflecting back to the other person. The other person knows that he or she is being heard and acknowledged.
· Engaged Listening – is when we listen closely and attentively, but also listen for nuances and inflections from the other person, sometimes through voice inflection, sometimes through body language to help us understand the deeper meaning of spoken conversation.
· Mindful Listening – a more current term, described as a way of listening without judgment, criticism or interruption, all the while being mindful of your own internal thoughts and reactions that may get in the way of what the other person is saying to you. Mindful Listening includes Active Listening and Effective Listening, and goes further and much deeper. I’ve heard Mindful Listening described as “…silencing the internal noise of your own thoughts…” so that you can focus on and listen intently to the other person. Now, that says a mouthful – or maybe an earful! Silencing that internal noise is so difficult because we don’t seem to practice it very much or very well.
Mindful Listening requires you to:
· Be Present – Focus your attention on the person speaking to you. Take away all distractions (phones, tablets, papers) and listen intently to what is being said to you.
· Be Curious – Ask open-ended questions when appropriate that encourage dialogue, rather than a yes-no answer. Observe body language. Listen for changes in the tone of voice. Paraphrase back to the person to make sure you understand what the person is telling you.
· Be Patient - Listen with empathy. Try to understand the other person’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. Let the speaker finish before you respond. And wait for silence – silence that internal noise so you can focus on the other person. It’s not about you. Are You Listening?
All these specific items on lists are good check points, but you won’t build skills just by reading lists. You don’t learn to ride a horse just by reading about it. You have to practice, and that takes time … and focused effort … and patience … and falling off a few times … and then more practice. And so it is with developing excellent listening skills. I encourage you to practice Mindful Listening, my friend, and notice the positive effects of good listening in all your dealings with others. Are You Listening?
Actually, the more I think about it, I’ve been asking a closed-end question all along. You could answer with a simple yes or no and be done with it. What I should be asking is: How WELL are you listening? Or, How MINDFULLY are you listening? That type of question gives you less wiggle room and encourages you to give more thought to your answer.
And now, I would like to offer you three questions that you can think about and answer for yourself whenever you can. These are open-ended questions to help you give some thought to what we’ve talked about in this episode. And here they are:
1. Think of a time when you were really listened to. How did that make you feel?
2. What – for you – is the most difficult part of engaged listening to another person?
3. How do you plan to practice Mindful Listening to improve your communication with others?
Well, now for that Special Key. Obviously, there is no key of “L” for “Listening” but there is a Key of “G” for “Good” and a Key of “C” for “Communication”, and that, my friend, is what listening is all about: Good Communication. Listen well – listen Actively, listen with Engagement, listen Mindfully. You’ll be amazed at what you’ve been missing! How MINDFULLY are you listening?
Now, I always like to give you a “heads-up” on what we’re planning for the next episode. It’s going to be called “The Fear Factor” – the fear that holds us back and keeps us from becoming our truly amazing selves. Join me, won’t you, for a very special episode of “Keys for New Leaders.”
Until then, stay safe and well, my friend, and listen Mindfully. How MINDFULLY Are You Listening?