Have you ever been in a conversation where you can hardly focus on what the other person is saying because you are busy formulating your response, or perhaps preoccupied with wanting to share some relevant tidbit about your own life? If you have, you are not alone. It has most likely happened to all of us at some point because we are cognitive beings who are regularly bombarded with technology, experiences, and perceptions that naturally bring about the desire for expression. At The Coaches Training Institute (the place where I received my coaching training), this type of listening is defined as “listening level 1”.
Listening level 1 is not a bad form of listening but it is often used at inappropriate times and it is mostly based on hidden agendas such as needing to look good or wanting to be liked. Rather than being with the person and being curious about their experience (listening level 2), we are focused on our own needs and are bound to miss the most important part of the communication; sometimes what is not being said.
Listening is challenging, I understand. We often feel desperate because nobody seems to listen to us but if we are truly committed to creating a successful as well as fulfilling work environment or home environment, we need to take the time to listen to one another. The benefits are infinite. Not only will the listener feel more appreciated and valued at work but countless hours of misunderstandings resulting in rework and/or sometimes hurt feelings can be avoided. Just this week one of my clients talked to me about the difficult situations she was having with a co-worker because they were not talking. Things have gotten so bad that my client is doing everything to avoid this person. I encouraged my client to have lunch with this person and to simply listen. (He is doing it this week). I strongly recommend we leave our egos out of those conversations. Be curious and be open to the other person’s perspective.
Flying in the face of the proclivity to “fix” things, patience is probably at the top of the list of attributes of a sincere listener. A little time will be required to build rapport which includes trust and the recipient should never feel hurried. After setting the stage for the conversation which might include confidentiality, concentrate only on the individual’s concerns; be curious. If it is appropriate and if asked, you may want to affirm their own insights and offer relevant examples, but make sure you are not the one doing most of the talking.
Listening involves hearing and understanding not only all of what people are saying but also what they are afraid to say. To listen with compassion is to be human. Go ahead, take the initiative, and just “be” with someone when it seems warranted and see what happens.