Listen to How You Listen

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Long ago, I heard a great line about listening:  you have one mouth and two ears. That means there are important occasions when you should spend more time listening than talking. I heed that advice when I’m in a group focused on learning and when I’m coaching an executive.  In a recent CEO workshop, the speaker explained that the most important thing managers can do is develop staff into more effective coaches of their people, so they can develop themselves for their staff.  As a result, I spend more time with my CEOs focusing on how they are coaching their direct reports.

That reminded me of an analysis on listening offered by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen, in Real Influence. There are four kinds of listening – and knowing how we’re listening affect our relationships. They are:

  • Avoidance listening: Listening OVER what the person says. By saying “Uh Huh” and doing other things isn’t real listening – your behavior shows it’s not.
  • Defense listening: Listening AT. Your defenses are up as you focus on how to protect yourself. Constantly defending yourself, makes it difficult for the speaker to make his/her true point.
  • Problem-solving listening: Listening TO what the person says so you can solve the person’s problem. As John Gray notes in Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, this male bias is a source of problems when the other speaker actually is at an emotional level trying to share feelings, and not seeking a solution to a problem.
  • Connective listening: Listening INTO what the other person says in order to understand the rational and emotional levels. This allows you to learn and build rapport.

Next time you’re listening, try to figure out which mode you’re really using. The best way to get Connective listening is to:

  • Control the time and place so the other person is comfortable speaking and are comfortable listening
  • When you speak, pause often – using silence to let the person think about what you said and speak out
  • Eliminate distractions, pay attention to listening; let the words resonate for you
  • Remember that the focus is on listening to learn. Resist focusing on yourself by asking questions about the speaker – what exactly does the communication mean for the speaker and how does he/she feel about it.

What are your listening experiences? How to you increase its effectiveness? Share your experiences and insights. We will be listening!