Are You Listening to Hear or to Understand?

“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” – Ben Franklin

One of my favorite movies of all times is Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman. It’s about resilience, and keeping a good attitude in life, as well as the absurdity of it all.

At a certain point, after Luke has tried to escape for the umpteenth time, the Boss says, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” It’s a classic line and one we can recognize in our workplaces on a daily basis.

We communicate in different ways:

  • Visual – using your body language and physiology to convey the message. Example: gesturing with your hands, nodding your head, folding your arms
  • Auditory – listens well and uses words and tone to get message across Example: speaks slowly, leans forward, modulates level of voice to match the person you’re speaking with
  • Kinesthetic – Touching or moving. Example: touching someone’s arm, standing close, shaking hands or hugs
  • We all use each of these styles at various times depending on whom we are speaking to, but the number one skill that is frequently missing is listening.

    Are you listening?

    Listening is an art form. Learning how to listen is one of the most powerful ways of communicating , and yet we are frequently not taught how to do that.

    There are three levels to listening:

  • Internal Listening – The attention is on you – on the sound of your own internal voice, listening to your own thoughts, opinions, judgments, feelings and conclusions. You are frequently trying to figure out your answer before the person has finished speaking.
  • Focused Listening – The attention is on the other person – on the sound of their voice, listening for words, expressions, emotion, what they don’t say, values, vision, and what makes them energetic.
  • Global Listening – Attention is on the whole person – softly focused on awareness of everything including seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling. Intuition guides this listening.
  • Think about the people you interact with every day. How many of them have good listening skills? How about you? Do you think you are a good listener?

    Related: What Consistent Actions Are You Taking to Reach Your Goals?

    Moving the focus to the other person is the goal of good communication. It’s the attention factor that draws people toward you because you’re interested in them. You want to learn more, you want to understand. You make it all about them.

    Ask yourself how you can improve your listening skills?

  • Develop the habit of asking powerful questions and listen attentively for the answers.
  • If you find yourself ready with an answer, pause and ask a question instead. Allow the other person to give you the answer.
  • Mirror back to them what you have heard. They will feel seen and heard more effectively.
  • Ask if you have captured all that they are saying, and if not, what would they like you to have asked?
  • Your communication skills are like any muscle in your body. You need to practice and in the practice you will not only gain respect, but you will gather much more information than if you had just listened at the surface, which will make you more effective in the workplace and at home.