Focus on the art of listening


My wife and I will be serving as volunteers at a camp for children this summer. These children have had a tough start to life coming from abusive homes. Due to the different types of abuse these children suffered and may even still suffer, we had to attend a two day intensive training so we could better understand their world.

One of the instructors said something that deeply resonated with me. He said, “To a child that’s been badly neglected they correlate love with listening.” He went onto explain that one of the greatest gifts one human being can give to another is to listen, to truly listen.

Adults are really just grown up children and I find that so few adults genuinely listen to each other. Most people don’t listen – they’re really just preparing their response. The way I see it is God gave us two ears and one mouth – we should listen twice as much as we speak. My wife likes to remind me of that one!

Have you noticed how effective people in the workplace are great listeners? They take action, yes but after truly understanding. It’s said that to listen is to give the speaker psychological air. I like that phrase. It’s as if we’re helping the speaker breathe when we really listen.

Listening is a competence that can be learned. ‘Attentive’ listening should be our normal mode of operation. When we listen attentively we listen with our eyes as well as our ears. We lean in. We’re present. We nod. We ask for clarification. We repeat back. Although it’s a competence that can be learned it comes from the character attribute of seeing immense value in each and every person regardless of their position within the organization. We put aside our ego to have the humility to listen.

But most people don’t listen attentively. At best they selectively listen. Worse still is they defensively listen. Sliding down further is pretending to listen and if it couldn’t get any worse, people ignore others they don’t like.

You may have heard of ‘Empathic’ listening. This is a higher level than attentive listening. Think about the letter ‘E’ in the word ‘Empathic’ – when there’s high Emotion we should practice ‘Empathic’ listening. This is no more complicated than recognizing the emotion. The goal is to get the person to calm themselves down so you can help. Phrases like “You seem frustrated, angry, upset” etc can help. You’re recognizing the emotion and that helps calm the person because you “get them”.

You’re listening now also with the heart. Once the person feels heard they will either ask your advice or thank you for listening. The goal is not to fix or figure out the person or situation but simply to understand. If they want your help, they’ll ask when they feel understood.

People often think it takes too much time to truly listen but by really listening we’re not making assumptions or coming to wrong conclusions. We save time by listening attentively.

So maybe the Camp Instructor was right – we do relate listening to love.

When we feel understood we work more effectively with our colleagues; we support our organizational leadership better and ultimately we provide better customer service. My observation has been that great leaders are great listeners. Great teams listen well to each other and effective individuals in today’s workplace are great listeners. Many a workplace conflict can be corrected by truly listening to each other.

One of the areas Newleaf Training and Development specialize in is Positively Reducing Conflict – available as seminar, keynote, coaching or online.

Leave a Reply