"We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak" Epictetus
By: Adrian Amore, Director of Services, Halcyon
People are social creatures and tend to share stories to connect with others. We draw on experiences, express feelings and opinions and generally find common ground to encourage conversation. But while we’re great at sharing, listening is a skill that many of us only partly do.
When it comes to listening, we spend a lot of time hearing words being said, but how often do we actually listen to the words, and fully take them in, understand them and then respond accordingly?
What does it mean to really listen?
Instinctively, we hear the words that people are saying. We hear their concerns, or complaints, even their resistance when it comes to change, but are we really listening to what is being said?
The purpose of any discussion is to encourage conversation both ways. Likewise, when people are speaking it’s important to listen to what they have to say. Rather than listening intently, we often listen for silence - a pause - so that we can quickly jump in and get our own point across, such as an observation, a similar experience, direction or advice. It is like we are constantly thinking about our next point or comment rather than really listening and taking in what the other person is saying.
When you listen intently you must listen with both ears, as well as with your eyes. This multi-layered listening takes in the person’s tone and body language, which allows you to get a real understanding of both what they are saying and their emotional state. If you part listen, or only use one of your ears and not your eyes, you only hear part of the story.
Part listening leads to an inadequate understanding of the message the other person is trying to get across, as well as an inadequate response from you. This is particularly apparent when the other person is seeking information, advice, reassurance or just to be heard. If you listen intently with both ears and your eyes you are best placed to offer the correct information, advice, solution, reassurance or not offer unwanted responses when the person just wants to be heard.
The importance of listening when it comes to change management
As change managers and trainers, at IComm we have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time fine tuning our active listening skills. We spend a lot of time actively listening to questions and feedback, and often ‘reading between the lines’, in order to uncover the true message.
Good change managers and trainers recognise the importance of active listening and its power to help overcome the natural discomfort and stress that comes when an organisational change is being proposed and made. Everyone adapts to change differently and in many cases simply giving someone within the organisation the chance to be really heard, listened to, and to give feedback can make all the difference.
Once the importance of listening is truly valued you must also constantly work to improve these skills, and to avoid falling back into the trap of not actively listening and instead making assumptions, not asking questions and not fully engaging with those you’re communicating with.
Try to listen intently next time you are engaged in a conversation. It won’t be easy, but a good listener is a stand out in in my books. Listening builds trust and rapport. That goes a long way in both your personal and business lives.