By Stephen Garber
“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
— G.K. Chesterton, English writer, poet and philosopher
Many of us think we listen without really having to try. And perhaps we do. But quite often, though, we are merely hearing—picking up sound through our ears. Listening is a different activity altogether. It requires focus, concentration and effort. This isn’t about social listening, the back-and-forth of conversation with little focus on the speaker’s experience or concerns. What we are talking about is listening deeply and powerfully—a variety rare yet so essential for success in our lives.
This is a conscious activity. It requires us to engage with someone else, putting aside our own concerns or agenda and giving our total focus. Most of us aren’t taught to function in this way. We are far more likely to focus on our agenda—what we want and need.
Deep and powerful listening can be learned, but it can’t be faked. If we don’t believe in the value of listening, people will see through us, sensing our impatience and insincerity. When we recognize and value the incredible benefits of a deeper level of listening, we give ourselves a transformative tool to build our relationships and deliver results.
As Bernard Ferrari writes in his book, Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All, this kind of listening is at the front end of decision-making. It gives us better information on which to base our decisions. It makes people feel included, valued and respected.
Power listeners are “other-directed” instead of focused on self. Rather than hijacking a conversation, they strive to be fully in the moment with the speaker.
They seek to understand the thoughts, feelings and views of the speaker, rather than assuming they are the same as their own. They build rapport through eye contact and body language, allowing silence, warmth and caring, rather than questions, to draw the speaker out.
They listen as a receiver, rather than as a critic. They are neither racing ahead in their own mind to find a solution, nor are they interpreting what they hear as good or bad, right or wrong, stupendous or stupid. Instead, they check their perceptions of what the speaker is saying, meaning, thinking and feeling.
Ironically, because they seek to understand the other person rather than instantly responding from their own perspective, they create a climate that is more conducive to healthy debate and finding a solution or agreement.
Taking the concept of deep listening out of the realms of theory and into a fast-paced, pressured business environment might seem almost impossible. It isn’t. Neither is it required daily. Half the battle is becoming aware of when we must listen at this level because we recognize the consequences of not doing so.
This does not mean allowing people to talk endlessly unchecked. It might, however, mean allowing the person you often interrupt—because they keep repeating the same thing—to actually have their say. If you truly hear this person, and he or she knows it, they no longer need to battle to be heard, and your influence over how they shape their communication grows considerably. Everyone wins. ♦
Stephen Garber is director of Third Level Ltd. Contact him at 561.752.5505 or email@example.com.