Leadership Solutions from Read Solutions Group: Listen to Respond or Listen to Understand?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Listen to Respond or Listen to Understand?

Whether coaching leaders or talking with groups about leadership and conflict, I often ask the question, “How frequently are you listening in order to respond?” In group settings, it’s amazing to see how many people nod, and somewhat abashed, acknowledge that listening to respond is what they normally do. So I ask you, in the last interaction you had with a boss, co-worker, partner or child, were you listening to respond or listening to understand?

In this newsletter, we’ll contrast listening to respond with listening to understand and outline some steps you can take to increase your influence and change relationships.
Listening is something we do when we are not talking.
Conversation is like tennis; it’s important to keep the ball moving and to win the point.
“You’re not listening.”
Looking up from the computer, “Yes, I am.”

Consider meetings you've attending and interactions you’ve had today; how much do the statements above describe you?

Now turn the question around, how much do those statements describe the other person(s) in the interaction? If the answer is a lot; how did that make you feel?

Many of us spend a lot of time hearing (possibly), but little time listening. During the course of a conversation, we are reacting, thinking about the next thing we are going to say, pondering whatever is going in our lives, looking for an opportunity to volley back the ball of the conversation or for an opportunity to score a point. The problem is that while we might keep the conversation afloat, the other person doesn’t necessarily feel heard, or worse, we’re set on scoring with an answer that was incomplete, off the mark or even destructive.

Now listening to understand can be hard work, so why bother? Think about a time when you were really heard, what do you think about the person who took that time? Do you respect them? Were they influential? Did you seek to avoid (or repair) conflict with them? True listeners may build deeper relationships, or they may just build better solutions; either way, they usually command greater respect and influence.

Listening to Understand
1. Choose to master your own emotions so that you can listen.
2. Know that the other person is interesting and set yourself a goal of learning what makes them so.
3. Remove your filters – notice what you are already believe about this person and let it go.
4. Ask thoughtful questions that
* Show that you are paying attention
* Move the conversation forward
* Challenge the other person to talk about what they are thinking and feeling.
5. Restate what you are hearing – the words, the feelings and the beliefs – and seek confirmation that you are hearing correctly.
6. Think before you speak (and not while you are listening).

You might argue that there’s too much to do to spend extra time listening. The challenge to you might be, how could you do this with the same amount of time (or even less) and have better relationships and relationships?

Please comment on this article, share your experiences, and give your suggestions around listening to understand.

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At 9:24 PM, Anonymous Russ Wildman said...

One approach I have used in more intense situations is to listen quietly with little to no physical reaction. As long as the other person is continuing to express/explore the issue, you can better understand her/his position by not influencing the thought stream he/she is working from. The idea is to present no judgement of the comments offered as they are being expressed. When it feels appropriate, feedback what you have heard, again in a non-judgemental way, and then begin to explore the issue more inteactively.

At 9:46 PM, Blogger Cameron Pegram said...

@russ wildman...that is a great idea. something i have tried is looking at the person's eyes. This has helped me to give my undivided attention to that person and what they are saying. Also, giving verbal/non-verbal indications that i am listening helps the other person to know/feel that i am listening to them. once in a while, depending on the conversation, i will ask questions to make clarify what i heard and then allow the person to continue. this reaffirms to the person that i was listening while helping me with staying focused with what they are saying.


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