“What’d You Say?” Eight Ways to Listen Better


Whether you work independently or part of a large team, your professional success is somewhat dependent on the strength of your connections with others.   Yes, you might be among the most talented or skilled at what you do. Yes, you might be proactive, responsive and driven. Those things certainly have an effect on your success, too. But what about the quality of your relationships? Are they truly connected? Are they authentic? Are they mutual?

Your ability to influence, persuade and lead others is closely tied to whether they value the connection they have with you. What do I mean by value? I mean they need to feel heard, understood, validated, thought-of and supported. The strongest interpersonal relationships involve connections infused with mutual trust, respect, authenticity and understanding.

So, how do you create empowered relationships? By listening more…

In our fast-paced, tech-filled, multi-tasked world, simply giving someone your ear can be a true gift. And that’s becoming more and more rare, which means improving your listening skills will not only strengthen your relationships, but will differentiate you in a powerful way.

Ready to hone your listening skills? Here are eight ways you can become more attuned to what the people around you are really saying:

Get Out of Your Head: Most of the time, when we think we’re listening to another person, we’re actually listening primarily to our own inner monologue. You know, it’s the voice in your head saying any one of the following (usually all at the same time or in random, quick succession):

  • “Oh no, she’s winding down and I’m not sure what to say next!”
  • “Ugg, I forgot to answer that important email from my boss.”
  • “I hope they like me and think I’m smart.”
  • “Man, I’m really hungry.”
  • “I have so much to do. I need to wrap this up.”
  • “Here we go… He’s probably gonna say something negative.”
  • “I wish I were that articulate.”
  • “Is that Todd just walking in? I really need to speak with him.”

This type of monkey-mind chatter is totally normal for us humans. That said, it really gets in the way of good listening. The biggest step you can take is to practice self-awareness. Once you identify and catch yourself in the moments of self-talk, you can intentionally bring attention back to the person with whom you’re communicating. Getting out of your head takes repetition and persistence!

Get Vulnerable: I know, you thought that listening was more comfortable than talking. Sorry, but even listening requires us to be vulnerable. This is because, often times, a majority of our self-talk is based on fear and is a reaction to being vulnerable. The vicious cycle at play here is that while we’re worried about what to say, how to look smart, or how to be engaging, we’re actually missing opportunities to do just that. The more you’re focused on what to say, be or do next, the less you’re focused on what the other person is really saying.  If you’re not focused on what’s being said, you’ll be less prepared to respond and connect authentically. Listening takes courage to quiet the inner critic, get out of ourselves, and put focus on the other.

Listen without a Filter: We’re all a product of our environment and experiences. These inputs create powerful filters that color how we hear, see and interpret people and situations. The more we can become aware of assumptions, preconceived notions, and biases, the more we can truly listen to others. Work to become more aware of what baggage or perspectives you’re bringing into a relationship and choose to let them go, especially if they involve labels or opinions you’ve already formed about that person’s identity, intentions or motives.

Take a Listening Stance: Focused listening involves key body language cues. Like a lot of things, when we activate and involve our physical selves, we’re more engaged and connected. Active listening includes facing your subject, making and keeping eye contact, and responding to what they’re saying with positive body language.

Dance in the Moment: Like many things, a truly connected conversation can’t be planned out. It’s fueled by spontaneity, energy, instinct and give-and-take. The key is to be present in every moment. …and the next moment. …and the next. The dance of a conversation relies on the willingness of each partner to step in with authenticity, focus and vulnerability. Accept that you may even step on each other’s toes at times. If you’re present in the moment, your listening skills will help you anticipate the next step.

Rely on Your Intuition to Hear the Unsaid: Deep listening involves hearing what’s unsaid as well as what is actually spoken. Rather than words, your intuition is tuning into the energy of a conversation. This may sound kinda out there, but it’s a tool that can be utilized to great effect. Have you ever listened to someone and felt like there was something under the surface not being voiced? This is typically sensed somewhere in your gut. Like being in a meeting that feels tense. Or maybe walking into a light-hearted conversation between friends. Learn to pick up on that which is unsaid, and have the courage to voice your intuition, such as: “I may be wrong, but I’m sensing there might be something else here, something unsaid.” Keep in mind that you have to be unattached to your theory, because there’s a chance you may indeed be wrong. But the times that you’re right will help get to the heart of the matter.

Listen for Values and Fears: Part of the secret sauce of motivating and influencing others involves understanding, honoring and aligning with the things that matter most to them. How do you know what matters? Listen! It’s amazing what you can learn from hearing someone talk about how they spent their time over the weekend, or what they think of the latest current event or news story. Beneath a person’s words and phrases lie values – fundamental areas of importance. Besides learning what they value, you’ll also become aware of their fears. Fear is a powerful influence on all of us. Once you’ve picked up on the things that worry someone, you can be more sensitive to being supportive by reassuring them where they may be less confident, and you can avoid pushing buttons that trigger anxiety or concern.

Ask Powerful Questions: Even though asking questions involves speaking, it’s a key tool in a listener’s tool bag. When you prompt others, it keeps the conversation going and allows you to use your listening skills. The most powerful questions are short and open-ended, which elicit in-depth answers. By your genuine interest, it shows people you are a good listener.

Summary:

  • Your professional success, and your ability to influence, persuade and lead others, is closely tied to whether your colleagues feel heard and understood.
  • Empowered relationships involve connections infused with mutual trust, respect, authenticity and understanding, and are created through better listening.
  • True listening is becoming more and more rare, which means improving your listening skills will not only strengthen your relationships, but will differentiate you in a powerful way.
  • Here are eight ways you can become more attuned to what the people around you are really saying: 1) Get out of your head, 2) Get vulnerable, 3) Listen without a filter, 4) Take a listening stance, 5) Dance in the moment, 6) Rely on your intuition to hear the unsaid, 7) Listen for values and fears, and 8) Ask powerful questions.

Try This Out:

  • Enter into a conversation with the goals of being very aware of your internal monologue and always focusing your attention right back to the other person.
  • Think about assumptions or labels you have associated with certain colleagues, and intentionally set them aside for a day. Notice what happens.
  • Practice making more eye contact than you usually would in a conversation, and observe the effect.
  • Experiment with getting more in tune with your intuition to listen for what’s not being said in conversations. Try exploring what’s unsaid later with a trusted colleague to see whether you’re on the right track.
  • Listen to a colleague and then go write down the values and fears you think you heard.