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Are You Listening To Me?

How many times have you been talking to someone as they stare at their phone? Or are you the one checking your notifications while someone’s talking to you? You say you’re paying attention. You might even think you are. But really, are you listening to them?

There’s a lot more to listening than you might think. That moment someone you’re with picks up their phone or glances at their emails, you know they’re not really listening. American author and businessman, Stephen Covey, called this Pretend Listening, in his book, The 8th Habit.

The five types of listening

Named by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential people, Stephen Covey was a best-selling author and educator. I love the way he describes the five levels of listening and how we can identify them in ourselves and our relationships in the workplace.

Ignoring. You might not consider this to be a form of listening. But if you’re the one talking, you know when you’re being ignored, and how it makes you feel.

Pretend Listening. You’re not really registering what they have to say, because you’re focused on your own actions or thoughts.

Selective Listening. You’re only listening to the bare bones of what someone has to say, while you find the parts that will support what you want to say.

Attentive Listening. You’re paying attention to what is being said, but only so that you can then use that information yourself.

Empathetic listening. The 5th level of listening. Also called active listening, this means you’re paying attention to what is being said (and not being said!) so that you can really try to understand what the other person means, how they feel, and what they need.

Empathetic listening

Empathetic listening is a skill that allows you to really relate to the person you are talking to. As a people leader, this is a way to really understand the individuals in your team. Unfortunately, it’s the one that we see the least often, particularly in the workplace.

When did you last make a conscious effort to really listen to someone? The first four levels of listening really only benefit yourself, but empathetic listening is about the person speaking. Can you see a benefit of understanding your team better?

Perhaps it’s time we took a step back to consider how much attention we give the people around us.

This means:
😕 Not being distracted by notifications (that the other person can hear)
📧 Not multi-tasking by reading your emails
🙊 Not waiting for them to pause so you can speak
🤔 Not thinking about what you want to ask them next.

Bringing listening skills into the workplace

As a coach, listening is a key part of my skill set. I realised that I make a huge conscious effort to listen to people when I’m coaching them. But I also realise that I’m just not listening as hard in other parts of my work or home life.

And of course, now that we’re often working virtually, our conversations have moved on to video calls, which makes distractions from notifications even more likely. So, have you felt recently that working virtually has helped you to focus more on the person you’re speaking to, or less?

A key way to find out more about the person you’re talking to, and to do more empathetic listening, is to ask the right questions. Are you asking the classic open questions that start with how, what, where, why, or when? This gives your team member the chance to expand on their answer, and allows you to practise some empathetic listening. After all, why ask the question if you don’t want to know the answer?

Some of my favourite questions are:
“What will happen if you don’t get that sorted?”
“What would you like to say to that person if you weren’t putting any filter on it?”
“Is that an assumption you’ve made, or a fact? How do you know that?”

Can you think of a conversation you’ve had where the other person really listened to your answer? What happened as a result?

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