Have you ever had someone really listen to you? I don’t mean half-heartedly listening, but rather when someone truly wants to understand what you are saying, what you are not saying, and captures your perception better than you expressed it.
The first time I remember experiencing this type of listening was a tremendous experience. The professor was fully present with me. It felt like I was the only one that mattered to her even though she had a class to start lecturing. In just a couple of minutes I felt valued, understood, and I felt important. I was energized by the exchange. I felt confident. I knew I was trusted. I became fully engaged and was grateful. That led to me wanting to make her proud and to really excel in her class.
Have you ever had someone who you could tell wasn’t fully listening to you, but was only listening to reply to you? Of course you have. This is the norm. At times when I am with someone who is listening to reply, I feel like they value time or being right more than me. I often feel like the person doesn’t really get what I am saying or get me. This usually leads to an increase in misunderstanding, which then leads to a lot of wasted time. Sometimes these misunderstandings lead to conflict, lingering resentments, and lower engagement.
You can supercharge your team by just becoming a better listener.
So how do we truly listen to understand? When a direct report speaks to you:
- Rephrase what you have heard them say or what they did not say. Ask “Am I off?” Once they are done speaking, don’t reply yet. Instead capture what they said in a single sentence and then follow it with the phrase, “Am I off?” So, one way of saying this is: “Jack, let me make sure I understand what you have been saying. You have shared.... Am I off?”
- Listen for what is not being said. Ask them what the repeated phrases mean to them. Also, look out for something they are they afraid to acknowledge or say. Ask them about that, “It seems like you are struggling with _________. Am I off?” If you are wrong, the “Am I off?" phrase helps them to know that you are really trying to understand them.
- Turn on empathy. Empathy fosters connection. It also leads to you understanding them better. This helps you to really capture what they are perceiving.
- Turn on your curiosity. When we become curious, we allow ourselves to fully focus on what they have to say. Set the goal to being able to capture their perception and give it back to them before you reply. This shows them that you value them.
- Listen for what is said. What words or phrases do they repeat?
- Ask clarifying questions to make sure that you really want to get what they are sharing with you. If they share something that isn’t really clear, ask them about it.
- Don’t reply until you have heard them say something to the effect of “You get me.” Often you will know that they felt heard when you see them smile.
Chew On This: What benefits would you gain by becoming a better listener?
If you have any questions feel free to email me at email@example.com or call (404) 421-8120.
Ryan C. Bailey is an Executive Coach who helps business leaders develop in-demand high performing teams.