How Well Do You Listen?

| | General Leadership

Whether your immediate answer to this question is “I am a great listener”, “I am a terrible listener” or somewhere in between, asking yourself this question can actually help you improve your ability to listen. Why? Because the moment you ask yourself “how well do I listen?” you are aware. With awareness you will naturally begin to observe yourself. And it is only when we are aware enough to observe our behavior and thought process in anything that we can make a choice to do it better.

Yet the ultimate test of how well we listen has nothing to do with us and our experience at all. The true test of effective listening is whether the person who is speaking actually feels heard and valued for what they said. Heard means that we actually got what the person intended to communicate, not what we think we heard them say. Valued is about leaving a speaker feeling like they matter. Great listeners know it is not just about the words. Listening is all about creating relationship.

So if you want to know how well you are doing, try asking the people you are communicating with on a regular basis for feedback. Start by letting people know you want to get better at listening. Here are a few suggested questions to get you started in a feedback conversation:

1. When we talk do you feel like I actually hear and understand what you are saying?
2. What do I do that has you know I am listening and actually heard you? What do I do that leads you to believe I am not really listening?
3. What have you been saying that you don’t think I have been able to hear?

Don’t let these questions limit you though. Create questions of your own. But do take the time to ask questions and listen closely to the answers. Remember that your intent is to learn. There is no need to defend yourself. None of us are perfect at listening. If someone triggers one of your hot buttons you just learned something important about where you can go to work. It also means they trust you enough to tell you like it is which is a really good sign about the strength of your relationship.

Listening fully is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another person. It also happens to improve our relationships and our results! So have fun reaping the rewards of your heightened awareness this week. You never know what you might hear that can make a difference for the future.

So how well do you listen? Let us know what you learn and discover this week.

If you would like support please feel free to post your questions here or send your questions to susan@randomactsofleadership.com.


Enter A Comment

Jay   |   23 March 2009   |   Reply

There is a reason why we have twice the listening devices than speaking devices. Do it as God intended, listen twice as much as we speak. How many marriages/business relationships could have been saved by simply being a better listener? I am going to stop talking now, and hear what others have to say. 🙂

Chuck Musciano   |   23 March 2009   |   Reply

I’ve always had problems being a good listener, since I’m always impatient to move on to solving things. It’s taken lots of active practice being a good listener to overcome that bad habit. Getting direct feedback from people you trust is critical.

robynsb   |   23 March 2009   |   Reply

Hi Susan,

Another great post on an important skill, which also demonstrates our caring for another. To your point:

“The true test of effective listening is whether the person who is speaking actually feels heard and valued for what they said. Heard means that we actually got what the person intended to communicate, not what we think we heard them say.”

I’d like to contribute: a way to get into that space so we can truly listen openly from our heart and not our head is to take the beginner’s mind, borrowing from Zen Buddhism. If we consciously work at clearing our mind of our own thoughts, our own judgments, prejudices, intentions and so on, we are there for the other person and truly hear them as they want to be heard.

Jeremy Samuel   |   25 March 2009   |   Reply

I could not agree more with this post.

When I was in college I was trained as a crisis phone counselor, and the main skill they taught us was active listenting. The last thing someone in crisis usually wants is a solution to a problem froma random phone counselor, they want to feel heard. By the use of active listening and the avoidance of problem solving, you can’t help but “listen”.

I have used active listening throughout my career. It has been the most important technique that I have used to convey that “I am listening”. Obviously, I have had to resort to problem solving, but only after the active listening is out of the way.

Jerry Roberts   |   25 March 2009   |   Reply

“When we talk do you feel like I actually hear and understand what you are saying?”

So good you bring this up, Susan.

Man 1: “Hi there, how are you today?!

Man 2: “I…I think I’m having a heart attack.”

Man 1: “That’s great!!! Hey, have you seen the new thingamabob my company just came out with…?”

For years I’ve led workshops that include a principle we call “be there.” It’s similar to the Fish Philosophy series. I’ve used the above example — which has happened to all of us (hopefully, without the heart attack) — to illustrate how some of us don’t listen at all. People always laugh at this, but also nod in agreement.

To many people (too many) listening is just another tactic they use to serve their agenda.

“Be there” is mentally setting aside that agenda and focusing like a laser on the words coming out of the other person’s mouth. Hear the words, understand the meaning, get to the context — and then, when they have finished speaking, to be able to respond intelligently.

How many times have you talked with someone and they listened about half way, not getting clear on the context, and then you had to repeat yourself?

Focusing for a very brief period — sometimes a half-minute or maybe a couple of minutes — and blocking out other thoughts…will result in people thinking you’re a lot smarter than you are (I’m living proof), and that you’re more likable.

Be there.

Thanks for the post, Susan. A valuable reminder.


prissyperfection   |   26 March 2009   |   Reply

Some of the difficulty I have with listening is disciplining my mind to wait to formulate any kind of response before the person is finished speaking. I start with listening to what is being said and suddenly, the brain starts to say to me, “oh yes, I know where this is going” and before you know it, I’m not listening any more.

One of the ways that I try to curtail this is by para-phrasing what I think I’m hearing, for confirmation. This keeps me focused on what is being said rather than what is to be said next!

Another thought-provoking post Susan :]

@finikiotis   |   26 March 2009   |   Reply

Superb post, Susan! Despite a growing appreciation about the value of listening, many people still seem to suffer from an inability to listen skillfully. Service workers are often trained in the step-by-step mechanics of listening, but skillful listening involves mindfulness which is often missed in course work, but which you stress in your work.

Listening non-judgmentally — with presence and attention — is a capacity which can be improved upon with guidance and practice. Your ideas provide the guidance. It’s up to us to use them in practice.

As for me, I believe my listening skills are improving, but I’ve more work to do in order to listen more mindfully and empathically. Your post serves as a reminder to do the work. 🙂

I hope you’ll write more on this subject.

Steve Finikiotis

Susan Mazza   |   26 March 2009   |   Reply

Thank you all for your comments so far. I so much appreciate you taking the time to comment and for adding depth to the conversation. Writing about listening and listening to what you all have to say is a great reminder for me too!

@ Jay Twice the number of listening as we do speaking devices…well how about that?!?

@Chuck I think all of have work to do – something we can continue to get better at but somehow the more mastery we gain the bigger the gap seems!

@Robynsb Thank you for bringing the beginners mind into the conversation. A wonderful practice for setting yourself up to hear. I especially like your point that it shifts your listening from your head to your heart – when we listen from our hearts is when I believe people feel valued most.

@Jeremy Thank you for jumping into the conversation with us and sharing your experience. Being a crisis counselor sounds like a great training ground for anyone who wants to learn to listen well.

One way I’ve learned to identify that I have not listened fully is that the other person can’t hear a word I am saying. Best tip I ever got regarding listening is that if you are not being listened to, chances are you are not listening.

@Jerry That is so great! I bet you do get a lot of laughs while making a great point – that one probably sticks pretty well.

@Gwen (aka prissyperfection) Paraphrasing is a great technique – it really does help you focus on what they other person is saying vs. whatever is going on in your own mind.

@Steve (aka finkoliotis) You point to a great distinction – mechanical vs. mindful listening. That would actually be a great thing to write about so stay tuned! Steve and I were twittering about a favorite author/researcher Ellen Langer. She wrote a book called Mindfulness that I highly recommend.

Henie   |   28 March 2009   |   Reply

Hi Susan!

As already mentioned by others, this is yet another great post offering very helpful ponderings.

Listening is truly a skill that needs implementation every day. What helps me is I repeat what the person has said for clarification and this usually leads both of us to come in to focus on what each other is saying.

“Sometimes silence speaks the loudest!.” ~Henie~

Tom Volkar / Delightful Work   |   29 March 2009   |   Reply

Sometimes not as well as I think do. Oh I’m a master in an individual coaching session because all of my awareness is focused on that moment. So I really hear the language, the emotions and the what’s not being said.

But interestingly when I’m facilitating a group experience I find that my intentions sometimes get in the way of my ability to really hear what’s being shared. That’s why the role of listener is best played with total immersion.

Jann Freed   |   03 May 2009   |   Reply

Are you familiar with these small books called The Sacred Art of Listening? I have two of them and I often use them in seminars to remind people about the basics of listening. They are good. Jann