We spend 70% of our day communicating in its various forms; Reading, Writing, Speaking, and of course Listening. Of that 70%, listening accounts for 42%. Almost HALF of our ability to effectively communicate comes in the form of listening, and yet, it's not taught and most of us are really really bad at it.
I remember being told to listen but, never taught how. There this misconception because people can hear, they should naturally be good at listening. But listening is very much a skill and requires training and intentional effort to be good.
WHAT IS LISTENING?
HOW DO I DO IT?
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW ?!
Hearing is an automatic, biological function of the ear. It can not be "turned off". It happens when the ear detects sound wave vibrations and converts them into nerve impulses that are perceived by the brain. We are born with this, and barring some deficiency or medical trauma, it’s an ability we carry for our entire lives.
Listening, on the other hand, is neurological. It occurs only when the listener assigns meaning to the noise they are hearing. You have to intentionally apply effort to "turn on" listening. It's the piece that completes the communication cycle. One speaks, one listens. Without someone listening, "communication" does not occur.
We hear everything, but we only listen to some things.
Out of all the noise we hear all day long we only acknowledge 10-20%. This is the portion we apply meaning to. An example of this is being fully engaged in a conversation with someone, in a crowded room, when from across the room you can pick out someone mentioning your name. How is this? That is because your name has deep meaning to you, so within all of that noise, you are still able to pick it out. The key to listening is in the level of importance you give to the noise your hearing...
Do you hear Jimi ?! Woody gets it.... Wesley, not so much... but it's still entertaining...
4 Levels of Listening
- Passive – This is the “hearing” level. It’s the lowest form of listening and is only really considered because you need a starting point and it involves your ears. Though, even at this stage your subconscious is listening (but that’s for another entry)
- Pretend – This is the most common form of listening people offer to one another. This is where you are actually internalizing (giving meaning) the information, but you are applying your “filters” to it. You are wondering; How this is relevant to you? How does this compare to a like situation you experienced? You pass judgment based on the individual offering the information. (someone “respected” has “better information”) and your listening to confirm this information defends your arguments and beliefs.
- Active – This is the type of listening you could expect to receive from a close friend, someone who cares about you. At this level you are aware of techniques to be a better listener and begin to apply them but you are still applying "filters" such as; Predicting the outcome to prepare your response (this causes you to cut people off) and Judgement based on accreditation (this causes you to assign lesser importance to the information therefore giving it less of your attention).
- Mindful – This is “pure listening”. This is the type listening you pay for when you hire a coach or a professional. Here, there is no other importance but to receive the information which you are presenting. No judgments, expectations, or predictions. Listening at this level engages all of your senses to almost experience the words even more than just hearing them. You, in a sense, become the speaker and acquire all the surrounding information along with the words being spoken. You no longer concern of the reply, knowing that with all the information any response will be natural and intuitive.
4 Steps to being a better Listener
- Be present – Offer your full attention. Be intentional about listening. Everything else can wait. Leave judgements, expectations, and predictions at the door.
- Quantum Leep – Immerse yourself in the listening. Go there, be that person in that situation, engage all of your senses.
- Allow – Fulfill the experience by allowing the space for thoughts to fully come through. Wait for thoughts to be completed exhausted before engaging. Apply the three second rule. Do not speak for three seconds after they have finished their sentence. This seems awkward at first but it is good practice until you are able to just naturally not jump on people's words.
- Receive - Open the door toward you... (metaphorically speaking) Don't "apply" meaning", receive it from the speaker. This may seem counter-intuitive to the definition of listening, but to listen at this level, is listening more to the why something is being said more deeply than the what... Request more insight to allow you to engage with the speaker at the deepest level possible. (Open ended questions like: “What does that mean to you?”,”What’s another example of that?”.
If someone was to tell you a story about their trip to the beach...
Step 1 you would acknowledge they were speaking to you and eliminate all distractions.
Step 2 would have you feeling the warm of the sun, the smell of the ocean, the sounds of the seagulls, and the taste of the salt taffys as you indulge in their tales.
Step 3 would encourage the speaker to fully express themselves having the confidence you are listening fully.
Step 4 would only be for the purpose of requiring this type of listening, but it would have you engage them for you to understand why they enjoy the beach. What in their life are they reflecting on when they are there? What are they avoiding by going there?
There is a whole lot more to listening then just hearing the noise, and I hope that you will take this information and begin applying these techniques. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the section below.
Now you understand listening and how to effectively do it... or, weren't you listening?