The key to success in any relationship (professional and personal) is good communication, yet most of us are not taught the fine art of truly listening to those around us. Taking the advice to listen in an effort to understand instead of listening to reply is crucial in taking relationships with coworkers, partners, parents, and anyone else in your life to the next level.

Without a doubt, it is great to have a well-thought-out reply, but if you’re thinking about what you want to say instead of hearing what the other person is saying, you aren’t really listening and may end up with a breakdown in communication.

Your point may come across but the lack of intentionally listening to who you’re communicating with may leave them to feel unheard and create a void in meaningful interactions with one another.

What “Listening to Understand” Looks Like

The old Biblical saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a great place to start when thinking about how to hold powerful conversations. A place to look from while listening is to ask yourself, “How is it that you hope others listen to you?” A tool experts use is called “active listening,” which includes some of the following components:

  • Focus. Look at who is talking to you. Consider their eye contact, body language, and tone of voice. What is it that they are actually saying?
  • Posture. How is it that you’ve positioned your body? Stand or sit and lean in facing the individual who is talking. Make sure they know you are interested and have them feel heard. Make eye contact, smile, nod, and if necessary, utilize leading remarks like, “Got it.” “Ok,” “Really?” “Go on,” etc. when appropriate and without a sarcastic tone.
  • Complete. Wait until the individual is done talking to ask clarifying questions or add your thoughts and insights. Interrupting is a surefire way to lose someone along the conversational journey.
  • Clarify. Ask clarifying questions or recreate what it is that you heard so as to ensure what they said landed. Show you understand and appreciate what it is they are bringing to the table. When you understand what it is they are saying, and they get that sense too, your insight will be that much more potent.
  • Respond. After all is said and clarified, provide a frank, honest, respectful response that addresses what is at stake. Add value to the conversation by looking at what has been presented and consider the potential that can come from what is said.

How to Practice Better Listening

Becoming an active listener takes practice, practice, practice – which requires intentionality. This is not an overnight transformative effort and may continue to be a challenge throughout your career. Just starting the journey and making a concerted effort will make a huge impact on your professional and personal life. Some practices that may provide more access to power within this arena may look like this…

  • Remove distractions. Cell phones, computers, pens & pencils, rubber bands… anything that may pull you out of the conversation should be set aside out of reach or turned off.
  • Address your state of being. Are you distracted by something going on at work or in life? Take a minute to breathe slowly and deeply. Relax and get comfortable so as to be present for what is going on in the now not the past or the future.
  • Don’t judge. Just listen. If needed, repeat what is said in your head to lock in the components of the conversation.
  • What’s the bigger picture? What is the possibility or impact of this conversation on what it is that you and this person aim to accomplish?
  • Note non-verbal communications. How is the person you are talking to showing up to the conversation? Does something need to be said or addressed to make sure you’re both on the same page?
  • Do not jump to conclusions or interrupt. Allow the flow of thought to come from the individual so as to get the complete picture. Patience is a virtue that pays off when given the chance.
  • Challenge yourself first. You may disagree with what is said. If so, use questions that challenge your own perception. Why might this speaker’s message be true? Under what circumstance might this be true? Consider asking non-confrontational questions that open up a bigger more powerful dialogue.

When listening to understand you access the ability to mine the gold in what others are saying and unlock new potential. As you go into meetings, consider how it is you show up and how you listen to others to truly start making a difference and empowering your team.


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