The Power of Active Listening
It's not enough to speak well, if you aren't listening
“How do we know this will work?” He asked, just before they pushed something to production. Everyone paused and then one brave soul said: “We don’t, we never looked at the data closely or ran tests to validate the code actually works.”
Obviously, this would never happen (right????) or at the very least, it shouldn’t.
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Pushing something out into the world without testing or having data that supports it’s success is not the move. And yet, this is exactly what happens when we try to have a conversation with someone without actually listening to them.
Communication only works if it’s both ways
No one likes repeating themselves over and over, only to feel like no one is listening or responding. Communicating effectively saves us time, energy and frustration.
It’s been great to explore topics like how to communicate concisely, give constructive feedback and use language in a way that drives toward action, but there is one part of the communication puzzle we haven’t looked at yet: listening.
If our communication is ONLY focused on how to SAY what we want to say and not ever focused on how to LISTEN well, our communication skills will develop off balance. Without this skill we will come off as tone deaf and not be effective in our communication.
Only when we learn how to listen well, can we craft something powerful to say in return.
Listening well is like gathering data. When we listen and decode what has been said to us accurately, we have powerful data points from which to make decisions on how to move forward and what to say and do next.
Without deep listening we are taking action detached from a true knowledge of what the other person is feeling and thinking.
What gets in the way of listening well?
No one INTENDS to be a poor listener, but there are a few things that keep us from listening well.
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An over estimation of our ability to understand the other person
Oftentimes we aren’t listening well because we don’t think we need to. We make assumptions that we “get it” and have understood the other person - without confirming if this is true.
To solve for this problem, it is always helpful to recap what the other person said before moving on. “What I’m hearing you say is…. “ Is one of the best ways to summarize the other person’s point of view and gives them the chance to confirm or adjust what you understood from them. It’s how we validate our data.
Filling in the blanks with our own assumptions
When information is missing, one of the ways our brains reconcile this, is to fill in the blanks with our own assumptions. Everyone does it, but it gets in the way of listening well. See if you can begin to notice what was NOT said, and what you assumed in it’s absence. THAT’S the information that still needs to be discovered.
Focus of attention
Let’s face it, in this day and age, the war for our attention is raging. Notifications, pop-ups, shorts video clips, even our own ideas and thoughts - everything seems loud and screaming for our attention.
It’s a skill to be able to truly focus and bring presence to one thing at a time. In order to listen deeply and skillfully we must focus fully on the person we are speaking to and not let our eyes, thoughts and minds wander.
Make it your objective this year to increase your skill of listening.
Validate what you heard, ask more questions to fill in the blanks with facts not assumptions and learn to bring your full focus and attention to the person you are engaged with. These three approaches will increase you ability to listen accurately and by extension, communicate with much more power and ease.
Until we become great listeners we will never be great communicators.
What gets in the way of listening well for you?
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