One of my favorite examples of “simple but not easy” is the skill of listening. So simple. Sooo not easy.
I used to think that great communicators were inspirational speakers. They used more than words – they expressed passion with their bodies, they mastered volume, pace, intonation, and eye contact to own a room; they moved me with their presence.
Now, I believe that these people are great orators, not necessarily great communicators. Great communicators are master listeners. They listen wholeheartedly, with earnest curiosity, seeking to understand another person’s worldview. They don’t judge; they don’t filter with right or wrong thinking. Their attention is focused on learning about another person’s lens of the world.
Great communicators listen for volume, pace, intonation. They observe the speaker’s body, emotions, passions, not just the words. Great communicators listen for what is said and not said.
What makes listening so challenging? We get in our own way. We listen with our attention on ourselves. Our egos pop around like popcorn, or as Stephen Covey wrote, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
We listen with the intent to reply.
What happens when we start to rehearse our reply? We stop listening.
What happens when we “know” what the person is going to say? We stop listening.
What happens when we hear only what we want to hear? We stop listening.
What happens when we try to sound smart? Funny? We stop listening.
What happens when we judge someone? We really, really stop listening.
What does it mean to listen wholeheartedly? It means being open, curious and fully present for the speaker. No telephones, no computer screens, no TV in the background. No multi-tasking with your to-do list, what to pack for vacation, when to schedule a haircut. Simple. Not easy, I know.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” -Winston Churchill
Deep listening takes practice. I would say that it doesn’t come naturally except it does…in children. Somehow as we develop into adults, our listening skills fade, so we must relearn how to listen as adults.
Here’s a way to practice: Sometime today, give your wholehearted, full attention to someone you love. Ask her what’s on her mind. Then just listen. Really listen. Listen with your heart and seek to really understand. Don’t reply with solutions. If you hear something that makes you think “what??”, respond with “Interesting, tell me more.” Then just listen, stay curious, and say thank you.
Let us know what you notice about communication when you set an intention to really listen.
Cathy Carroll is the founder of Legacy Onward, Inc. which provides leadership coaching for family businesses. Growing up as a third generation member of a family business, Cathy enjoyed a 20-year corporate career before leading her father’s manufacturing business. Legacy Onward is dedicated to helping family businesses achieve greater profits through greater performance.