Ritch Hochstetler | January 28, 2022
Have you ever found yourself on the listening end of a conversation, and based on your response, it becomes abundantly clear that you have not listened to a word they said? Author and reporter Celeste Headlee, from her book, We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter, states: “Being a good talker doesn’t make you a good listener, and being smart might make you a terrible listener.”
Though we would all agree that intuitively this makes sense, the reality is that we could all use some help developing our listening skills in order to avoid more embarrassing situations as described above. Today we are sharing three practical steps you can take to grow your listening skills in 2022.
Recognize Your Growth Areas
First, start by recognizing your own deficits and growth areas when it comes to truly listening to others. As Robert Greenleaf once said, “Don’t assume, because you are intelligent, able, and well-motivated, that you are open to communication, that you know how to listen.” A servant leader, according to Greenleaf, automatically responds to any problem by listening first. I’ll be the first to admit that personal biases, opinions, and even well-intended desire to inform, inspire, or fix another person’s problems often dampen my ability to truly listen.
Commit to Listen Without Judgement
Second, commit, with humility, to becoming a skilled communicator who “listens without judgement.” This goes deeper than merely regurgitating back to someone what they have said to you. Sipe and Frick, in their book, The Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership, highlight three qualities of a servant leader-listener that are essential for true understanding:
1) Seek first to understand, then to be understood
2) Listen receptively to others, demonstrating genuine interest, warmth, and respect
3) Listens honestly and deeply to oneself and invite feedback from others
Will Wise, experiential educator, professor, author, and trainer highlights the powerful simplicity of what it means to listen when he states, “Listening says, ‘I get you!’” This can only happen when you consistently practice the behaviors that communicate presence, like asking clarifying questions and reflecting ideas, feelings and emotions. To listen without judgment demands a capacity to accept human imperfections – both your own and the person who you are listening to. This deeper form of listening allows us to look within ourselves and become aware of the barriers that inhibit our ability to listen effectively. It helps us discern information that leads to understanding, rather than judgment. True listening requires a radical shift.
Will Wise goes on to say, “When you practice deep listening (without judgment) your mind shifts to the needs of those around you. Your focus is on the person sharing instead of your need to be right. When you’re in this space, you hear what is really important. No longer is there a need to prove anything. The need is for them to fully express themselves and for you to receive that.” Superintendent of Elkhart Community Schools, Dr. Thalheimer, shares that the balance he tries to achieve daily as “Counselor-In-Chief” are based on the words of Thomas Sergiovanni in his book, Leadership for the Schoolhouse, who states, “(We need) leadership that is tough enough to demand a great deal from everyone, and leadership that is tender enough to encourage the heart.”
Practice your Listening Skills
Third, in order to engage in listening that opens the door to deeper understanding, you must identify tangible skills needed in your work and personal context to grow your “listening muscles.” Then you must commit to growing these skills into habits of practice.
Two areas of focus include the following:
• Listening Posture – pay attention to the three ways you are conveying meaning in a conversation:
a) lingual- the meaning of the words
b) gestural- facial expression, hand movements, and body posture
c) tonal- vocal timbre as you say the words
• Powerful Questions – shape the conversation in a way that invites curiosity, imagination, and engagement. Let go of what you would like the other person to be. Create space to suspend judgment of your ideas or how you think the other person ought to be. These questions often start with “Why, What, and How,” leaving room for responses that are unrehearsed and unscripted.
Spanish Jesuit writer and philosopher, Baltasar Gracián once said, “We have eyelids but not earlids, for the ears are the portals of learning, and nature wanted to keep them wide open.” In order to understand, and to unlock the potential in others, we must listen as if someone’s life depends on it. When this happens, people are literally “listened” into the possibility of new ways of being. This means we “listen them” into a new space – a space where they can recreate themselves in the current moment.
As a resource for skill development, we’ve included a free tool – Assertiveness & Active Listening Exercise. This simple tool helps team members develop deeper listening skills while also communicating authentically and assertively.
ULEAD is committed to helping individuals and teams discover their “why,” grow their skills, and inspire others. For more information on virtual and in-person teambuilding sessions, go to uleadinc.org/programs.
Ritch Hochstetler, Chief Ideation Trailblazer at ULEAD