LISTENING TO THE PERSON
Notes from LCCLSA AGM 2022 (with acknowledgement to www.skillsyouneed.co.za)
Lead by listening. To be a good leader, you have to be a great listener. (Richard Branson)
The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention. (Richard Moss)
Getting into the right space to listen
- Ideally, set up an appointment – at a time when you will have the energy to listen well.
- Choose a suitable and helpful setting. Across a desk is not ideal. ‘Neutral territory’ may have an advantage.
- Relax so you can focus on the person speaking.
- Concentrate. Try to put other thoughts out of your head. If your attention wanders, catch it and bring it back to the speaker.
- Consciously decide to listen, and to really understand the speaker and what is said.
Showing that you are really listening
- Put the speaker at ease – by your words, gestures, and well-judged eye contact.
- Avoid fiddling, doodling, touching things, and looking around.
- Show by your posture that you are engaged.
- Don’t interrupt, or guess at finishing the speaker’s sentences.
- Relax when the speaker pauses. Don’t rush in to start fill the gap with talking.
Reflecting what you have heard
- Sometimes, when you need to check whether you have understood, reflect back what you have heard. This enables the speaker either to affirm or to correct your understanding.
- Sometimes, reflect back what you have heard simply in order to reassure the speaker that you have understood.
- But don’t do it too often!
- Try to listen not only to the speaker’s ideas but to pick up the feelings behind what is communicated. Listen not only to the words but also to non-verbals – facial expression, posture, body-language, hesitations, tempo, pauses, voice tone and pitch and volume.
- Reflect these feelings, and their intensity, so the speaker feels heard and understood emotionally, e.g. “You feel a little bit/quite/very/extremely helpless.”
- If you’re not sure, test what you pick up and let the speaker either affirm or correct you.
- Encourage the speaker to keep speaking, or to say more, by using words & non-verbals that invite them to stay open – a smile, a nod, “uh-huh”, “mmm”, widening your eyes, leaning forward, “go on”, “ah”, “and so?”
- Let the speaker lead the conversation, deciding when they want to pause and showing you when they want you to speak.
- If the speaker’s words and non-verbals do not match, generally trust the non-verbals and point out the inconsistency.
Listening with empathy
- Try to see things from the speaker’s perspective. Let go of your own way of seeing things for long enough to understand the speaker’s point of view and concerns.
- Keep an open mind when the speaker says something with which you disagree. Wait. Keep listening to the speaker’s views and opinions until they have finished and you have fully taken in what they have to say. Only then, think of how to respond.
- Try to put yourself in the speaker’s shoes and make an emotional connection with what the speaker is feeling.
- When you can feel what the speaker is feeling, show it in your face or with other non-verbals.
Questioning to enhance listening
- Try to ask the right questions at the right time.
- Don’t start questioning too soon.
- Use questions not to control the speaker but to clarify, to show interest, to build rapport with the speaker, to express empathy, to explore the speaker’s beliefs and attitudes, to check out any assumption you may be making, or to encourage the person to think about something more deeply.
- Pausing before asking a question helps to stress its importance. Pausing after a response can encourage the speaker to continue.
- You can use facial expressions to ask all kinds of gentle questions without using words, e.g. raising your eyebrows to ask “Are you sure?”
Eliminating barriers to listening
- Be aware of any mannerism or habit that you find annoying in the speaker (e.g. accent, pointing, or “like”). Consciously avoid becoming irritated or distracted by such things. Focus on what the speaker is trying to communicate.
- Listen for the whole picture – grasp the idea. Don’t get ‘hung up’ on some little part that annoys or upsets you.
- Don’t jump in and speak every time there is a moment of silence. Be patient with the speaker.
- Avoid formulating a reply while listening.
- Remain open. Try not to judge the speaker or let your prejudices dismiss them.
- Switch your phone off.
The whole is more than the sum of its parts. (Aristotle)
- Everyone walks into a meeting with their ideas and their ability to make a contribution.
- But we do not simply pool our ideas and then choose which one to go with.
- Instead we make our best contribution by building upon each other’s ideas.
- And together we generate something that no one preconceived and ‘sold’ to us.
- And what we co-create, we own. It is ours.