Are you truly listening?

One of the most under-rated leadership qualities is listening. Studies show that we spend up to 80% percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend roughly 45% listening. But how much listening are we actually doing?

Active listening is all about truly connecting with the person or people you are listening to. Active listening allows us to comprehend and understand things on a deeper level. Ineffective listening can result in a disconnect between leaders and employees, which is bad news for productivity. Listening is such a vital part of leadership and deserves our full attention. 

But things get in the way of deep listening and communication. For one thing, we are often busy and preoccupied with competing priorities to truly clear our minds and listen whole heartedly. Secondly our natural biases get in the way of listening with an open mind. As discussed in my last post, we all have predisposed beliefs and preferences from past experience that can distort what we are seeing and hearing and shape our own perceptions of communication. To better understand others as leaders, we need to be aware of all these hurdles and barriers to deeper communication and try to overcome them. 

Let’s take a look at the different levels of listening as outlined by Otto Scharmer. He lists these 4 levels of listening. Once we are aware of these levels, it’s great practice to try to tune into the different channels of listening. As you are next listening to someone, try to actively tune in to the different levels of listening to gather information and emotionally connect with the person. The four levels are;

  1. Downloading – Listening from habit – this is the first level of listening. The result of this listening is that you simply re-confirm what your already know. When you listen from the centre of your own prism, you tend to project your own slides on the wall. Everything you hear is limited to your own perceptions and your own experiences from the past. 
  2. Factual listening  listening from outside – going to the edge of your knowledge and listening for what you do not already know. You enter this level of listening with an open mind. What can you add? What’s different. Charles Darwin used to look for things that disproved his theory of evolution. The essence of factual listening is that we access the open mind. We notice what is different from what we expected to hear. 

These two levels of listening are important but there is a missing ingredient to establish a deeper level of connection. That missing ingredient is compassion. Without truly connecting with other people at a compassionate level, leaders cannot build meaningful relationships. Without compassion there is no connection. And without connection, there is no trust, no rapport and no engagement. Dealing with complex social situations requires leaders to embrace two more advanced levels of listening;  

  1. Empathic listening – listening from within – this type of listening allows you to see the situation with an open heart, through the eyes of the other. This type of listening will have you connect with the experience of another person, to connect with how the other person is feeling. You are hearing their perspective, looking for how they are feeling and holding how they are feeling, so you can feel it too. You have gone to the edge of what you know, and you are looking beyond. You recognise how they feel and you are feeling the same. Benefit of this type of listening is there is a real connection; unlike the first two levels of listening.
  2. Generative listening – listening from source – this level of listening requires you to connect with an open will. This requires you to connect with the emerging future possibilities, to connect more fully with the true source of who we are. You know when you are listening at this level if you sense your identity of yourself has shifted a little towards the person you really are. This kind of listening can result when a great coach is listening to someone, being able to truly connect to the person’s true future self. They don’t see you in terms of your past but in terms of your future possibility. 

So how can we listen more to make deeper connections with those we lead? 

I’ll go into this in more detail in my next post but in the meantime, here are three things to try to enhance your listening skills today; 

  • Push aside your biases. Be aware of your natural biases about someone and try to consciously push them to the side. 
  • Create enough space in your day. There’s nothing that stands more in the way of effective listening than being so swamped with work and meetings. You just can’t be truly present if you are preoccupied with stress and deadlines. As hard as it can be, carve out some time in your day for some reflection and space so that when you are talking with someone one-on-one, you can give them your full attention with a greater sense of space and calmness.
  • Ask more questions. Next time someone in your team asks for advice, ask questions to make sure you fully understand the situation before jumping in with advice. 

I challenge you to try to listen at the four levels of listening today and see if you can make better connections with the people in your lives. I’d love to share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate. Get in touch today.

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