Curiously, there’s no research on how much of what we say is listened to or heard by the person or people it’s intended for.
Research on this topic would be interesting because as humans we can talk a lot, but we are not so good at listening. We are often much more focused on what we want to say than what the other person is saying.
And yet, listening is crucial to building sustainable relationships. Everyone wants to feel that they have been heard.
Why? Because when a person feels heard they feel like they matter to you. They feel like their point of view has been considered and that you are interested in what they have to say.
Being heard doesn’t mean you need to agree with the other person’s perspective.
It means you are fully present when the person is talking to you. You are focused on them, and only them. You ignore distractions such as a ringing mobile phone (or better yet, it is on silent) or incoming emails.
You are genuinely interested and curious as to what they are saying. You ask questions and seek to clarify before sharing your ideas or providing a solution.
You listen empathetically and with compassion because you are seeking to understand what they need in a non-judgemental manner. By doing this you acknowledge how they are feeling and recognise what they need.
When I look back at my time in corporate, I initially had this horrible habit of sitting at my desk and continuing to type on my computer when someone would come to talk to me. Whilst I thought I was trying to multi-task, what I was really saying to the person was “I am too busy to talk to you”. It was a habit I learned to break.
In contrast, one of my former team members had this lovely habit where she would stand up if someone approached her desk to talk to her. By standing up she demonstrated to the other person that they mattered and that she wanted to listen to them. It was a very powerful behavioural trait.
Listening isn’t necessarily easy so you need to find “hacks” that make it easier for you to do.
Here are some things to consider:
- Stand up when someone approaches your desk and wants to talk to you
- Schedule important conversations at the time of day when you know you will be most alert
- Turn off all distractions – phone, email etc.
- Find a quiet place to have the conversation where you won’t be interrupted
- Watch how you are reacting to the conversation and slow your mind down so that you can take in what is being said
- Be conscious of what the other person needs out of the conversation
- And lastly, recognise that by listening you are demonstrating leadership and building a better relationship simultaneously, which makes it more likely that you will be heard in return. So it’s a 2-for-1 bonus!
It was Stephen Covey who said: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Do you think it’s time to change that saying?
Michelle Gibbings is a change and leadership expert and founder of Change Meridian.