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The power of listening well

Fotolia_115165574_SRita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

Successful verbal communication is a two-way street: speaking and listening. We all know people who are boastful big bags of hot air ... they talk a good game but they are poor listeners. This can shipwreck dialogue and two-way communication, which, in turn, causes stress, tension and misunderstandings. Have you ever been involved in a communication mishap that could have been avoided with the use of better listening skills? Have you walked away from a conversation feeling disappointed that your important message was not heard? You are not alone. What can we do about it?

You’ve heard the adage, “Be interested rather than interesting.” Research shows us that people who have high emotional intelligence are able to adapt their behaviors to enhance interpersonal relationships with others - this includes being an active listener.

Listening is complicated! Active listeners are listening both with an emphasis on enhancing the interpersonal relationship and to gather information. People have natural listening styles or ways that they process what they’ve heard. A Comprehensive listener will listen to gather information and put it together to create the big picture. An Evaluative listener is automatically judging the information they are listening to. Discerning listeners have a natural style that sifts and sorts fact from fiction. An Empathic listening style helps the listener tap into the feelings of the person they are listening to. Listeners who have an Appreciative listening style listen for the entertainment and enjoyment of listening, not necessarily to gather information. Understanding our own personal listening strengths and our opportunities for growth is tapping into the power of listening.

What do we do if we want to tap into the powerful habits of listening well? Practice the behaviors of outstanding listeners. Here are a few tips to help:

  1. Create a safety net. Complex and sensitive dialogue can occur when the listener creates a safe environment for the speaker to share their information.
  2. Clear barriers and obstacles. The listener lets the speaker know that they are fully present and attentive by putting away phones, laptops and any possible distractors that may interrupt and disrupt the dialogue.
  3. Seek first to understand. Author Stephen Covey said it best: “Seek first to understand and second to be understood.” The listener is gathering information for the purpose of comprehending what the speaker is trying to deliver. The listener asks clarifying questions to understand more fully and paraphrases what has been heard to measure the accuracy of the listening experience.
  4. Nonverbals speak loudly. It is estimated that 80% of our communication is delivered not through the spoken word, but through nonverbal cues. The goal is to listen with your eyes as well as your ears. Outstanding listeners pay attention to eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and postures to gain additional information.
  5. Employ empathy and offer support. The listener can identify with and acknowledge the feelings and emotions of the person delivering the information. The listener can validate those feelings in a neutral, nonjudgmental way.
  6. Ask probing questions for critical thinking. Powerful listeners do not take over a conversation so their topics become the topics of discussion. Instead, they explore the dialogue fully by inviting more information through the use of gently probing questions. By asking clarifying questions to understand the assumptions of the other person, the listener helps them see these ideas in a new way.

Enhanced listening skills can help employees avoid stress, tension and miscommunications in the workplace. With self-reflection, focus and practice, we can all harness and elevate the power of listening well.

© Rita Perea, 2016

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