Deep listening is listening with no judgement, with full empathy, and with the desire to truly hear the person talking with the goal to better oneself and the relationship. Deep listening is the basis of good leadership. In fact, one of the biggest obstacles to successful leadership is an inability to truly listen.
Leaders who don’t practice good listening will inevitably fall short. But truly listening can be a challenge even for the best of us. We all face natural distractions to deep listening thanks to what the Buddhist monks refer to as our ‘monkey minds’.
Our minds are always racing and bouncing around multiple thoughts, it’s hard to stay focussed. When someone else is talking to us, we think about when there might be a pause in the conversation for us to jump in, we think about all the things we have to do once the meeting is finally over, we get distracted from a text message telling us something more important has popped up, we think about what we may get for lunch, the list goes on. On top of this, we have our natural biases at play that filter what someone is saying due to our own values, preferences and beliefs about the person.
There are a lot of things standing in the way of truly hearing others. As such, listening is a skill we can do all with actively trying to improve and brush up on. Luckily, there are some good techniques to help.
So how can you get better at deep listening? Try these;
- Practice daily meditation:
No doubt you have heard again and again about meditation and how good it can be for your mental health. But have you considered a few minutes of daily meditation could set you up to be a better listener?
Meditation has been proven to be the best way to slow down the ‘monkey mind’ and be more present and it’s effects are cumulative. If you practice ten minutes of mediation in the morning, you can still feel the effects for the rest of the day.
A simple meditation is one where you focus on your breath as a way of training your attention. When your mind begins to wander, you bring it back to the breath, again and again. It’s not about sitting still with a blank mind, it’s about bringing the focus back to its object repeatedly. You observe your thoughts non-judgmentally, acknowledge them, and then let them go without reacting to them. There only about a million mediation apps and podcasts at our disposal so why not get downloading and trying it out for yourself as a daily discipline.
See if you notice a difference in your ability to focus and truly listen.
- Learn to read verbal and non-verbal cues.
Being able to read non-verbal cues is just as important as understanding the verbal dialogue. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language cues all help you to better understand how the person doing the talking is feeling and what they are trying to express. By recognising verbal and non-verbal cues, you are more sensitive to what they are feeling, can acknowledge these feelings and probe a little deeper to really understand them more; “I sense you are a little anxious about this topic, can you tell me more”. When someone feels feel heard, their tensions can dissipate and they can begin to feel valued and connected.
- When listening to others, show how you are actively processing what you are hearing.
Now that you have the presence and focus of a Buddhist monk and are taking note of the verbal and non-verbal cues, you need to show that you are actively processing what you are hearing. Nodding, facial expressions, eye contact all help to show this. As does para-phrasing and asking probing questions or saying encouraging phrases like “yes, great point”. You might say “OK, so what I am hearing is …..”, or “here are a couple of key points that I heard from this meeting… does that sound right?”
Effective leaders can go even further here to show just how much they value the feelings and feedback of their staff, by organising another time to meet and outline the next steps for that catch up. You want the person to leave the conversation feeling validated, heard and thoroughly understood not hurried, misunderstood or overlooked.
- Follow up on conversations.
Nothing is more validating than following up on a conversation and checking in one someone’s feelings. Life can get busy, but is a great idea to make time for follow-ups.
- Talk the talk and walk the walk.
Often the feedback from your employees is about things that you can do better as a leader. There’s no better way to show how much you have heard this feedback than to actually act on it and make changes to how you or the business do things. Keep gauging their perspectives and feedback, this is a continual process and your working relationships will continue to strengthen.
Leaders who are focussed on truly hearing their staff and seeing things from their point of view are more empathetic and more effective leaders. Employees who feel heard will be more connected, engaged, fulfilled and motivated. Practice deeper listening and reap the rewards.
I’d love to share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate. Get in touch today.