I’ve always regarded myself as a good listener. I make eye contact, I maintain interest, I ask thoughtful questions. So when I was preparing to do a listening test to find out my ‘listening villain’ i.e. my weakness in listening, I felt smug. I felt confident. But I was totally bamboozled by the results.
Turns out my listening villain was ‘The Interrupting Listener’ (cue the dramatic music). A well-intentioned, can-do problem solver that interrupts people and is busy solving problems before they have even been verbalised. Eek!
Now you're probably wondering why we should care about listening? Well, because it’s part of the way we communicate.
Communication tends to focus on the verbal form, but non verbal communication is equally important. Communication is essential to our everyday relationships, whether it be personal or professional, but it’s critically important in the workplace for a number of reasons. To be an effective business leader, client, or agency partner you need to be an effective communicator.
Leaders typically spend 64 percent to 83 percent of their day listening. The more senior your role, the more critical listening is to your career progress. However, only two percent of leaders have received training on how to listen. Think about your own career development, have you?
You’ve probably heard of active listening, it’s been a buzz word for a while. Active listening involves a conscious choice to be present in the moment and not give in to distractions, such as smartphones, wandering thoughts and even boredom (we’ve all been there).
It also involves signals to the other person that you’ve actually listened to, such as an acknowledgement of the conversation with a simple nod of the head. Or waiting until the person is completely finished speaking and summarising what you’ve heard to make sure it’s clear.
This is a great place to start, but it only covers the first three levels of listening. There are five.
Deep listening takes active listening to the next level. So what’s deep listening? It’s about being more than just present in the moment and taking in the full context of the situation, not just what’s being said but the unsaid too.
In active listening we are taught to paraphrase what was said to us but in doing this, you impose your own view on what you’ve heard. Deep listening means listening without preconceived ideas and judgment. Opening yourself up to what’s been said and allowing the speaker to connect with you.
If you find your mind racing when listening you’re not alone. Research shows that the mind thinks faster than people can speak. You might be formulating your response in your head, at which point you’re not listening deeply to that persona anymore. Switch off the internal dialogue and use the clear mind to listen for the true meaning in what’s being said or not said.
What’s the cost of not listening? Well in 2019 a doctor in Wuhan told six colleagues he had found a virus that had shown mutations from SARS. The authorities didn’t want to listen and made him recount his story. As a result, we lost three weeks in the fight against COVID-19.
That’s a fairly dramatic example, but the cost of listening can be felt in our day to day work life too. If we don’t listen to a client, we might not nail the brief. If we don’t listen to an employee, we might not solve a problem. If we don’t listen to the market, we might miss an opportunity.
Being a better listener also means that you open yourself up to advantage. Research shows that people who are inactive listeners will get less information from the speaker as they are less inclined to share and open up. On the flip side, good listeners will get better information out of that person. It will also often lead to better listening to you from the other person, as they are inclined to return the favour.
There is a lot to be gained and learned by deep listening, yet listening is probably one of the most under-rated skills in the workplace. If you want to be the best communicator in the biz, you also need to be the best listener.
So, take the test, discover your listening villain, be horrified, then work on it. Most importantly, start a conversation and don’t speak, just listen.
Words by Jade Glashoff, Senior Brand Leader