There are two listening exercises that are very effective in developing this hugely important and impactful skill. And to be clear, listening is a skill that can be improved. With practice.
First, let me start with a quote that I recently read on listening that has stayed with me.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen R. Covey
Take a second to think back to the last conversation you had. Were you listening to reply? Or really listening to understand? Chances are you weren’t even thinking about one or the other.
A few big lessons I’ve learned over the last few years has been around listening and how to get better at it.
Listening is a key fundamental skill needed to be a good coach and mentor and it’s something you get to practice a lot of when in these positions.
The first useful exercise that’s worth sharing is around ‘Active Listening’. It’s simple, powerful, difficult and fun.
Find a teammate or friend that you can practice with. Have them agree to talk about something important to them for 2 minutes. During this time, you are only permitted to listen, completely. That means no words back, no nodding. Nothing. Just 100% listening in an active engaged way. Try it and see what happens?
Two interesting things emerge. Firstly, you will find it very difficult to keep silent for period. You’ll have to resist the urge to jump in so many times. That’s normal. Because the default is listening to reply or solve. With practice, you’ll get more comfortable with the silence. Even when the other person pauses, which can feel like forever, just sit with it. This is giving them space. The second takeaway normally comes from the talker’s side. They typically don’t get the opportunity to talk uninterrupted for that length of time. They feel they’ve been truly listened too. And in so many cases when people talk, this is all they want! Listening actively to what they’re saying can be very powerful. It also forces you to fully understand and doing so helps you remain present.
The second exercise is where empathy comes into play and is bringing your listening to another higher level. It’s called ‘Empathetic Listening’ and the set-up is the same as before. 2 minutes between you and a colleague. Only this time, you as the listener are studying what the person is feeling. You’re listening to the words and taking into consideration body language, expressions, and tuning your senses into their emotions. You are to bring an awareness of what feelings you’re experiencing from listening to them. Imagine yourself tuning a dial into their radio frequency.
When the time is up, the listener then feeds back to the speaker what they sensed they were feeling about this situation. Rising above the words. With empathy. With practice, this can be developed and brings a new superpower to your ability to listen.
That’s just 2 quick examples. I’ve been so lucky to have the chance to practice and develop the art of listening through the coaching work and also from the podcast interviews. As an interviewer, listening both actively and empathically has become something I get to do opening and share with others. That’s great real-time practice that has been a huge learning.
Statistics show listening is one of the most underrated and underdeveloped skills we have. However, it’s one we can improve if we become more aware of how we currently do it and take action (like the exercises above) to deliberately practice it. Chances are you have, if you’re like me, about 6-8 meetings every day. So, you’re not short of opportunities.
How do you get better at listening? Would love to hear about that.