If you ask a roomful of people, especially leaders, “How many of you have ever had training to help you listen?” Usually only a few hands will go up. Those who have majored in counseling or communication are generally the only ones who have had any training in listening. Many have had speaking, teaching, or preaching classes, but few have any instruction in listening, reflecting and asking. Yet, communication at its very best, involves listening.
“The one who gives an answer before he listens—this is foolishness…” (Proverbs 18:13). In his book, The 8thHabit, Stephen Covey identifies five levels of listening: Ignoring, Pretend (patronizing) Selective listening, Attentive listening and Empathetic listening. Developing your listening skills to level five is a carefully honed skill. But we can all start with the attitude needed—caring for others. The oft-used axiom is the start line, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” When others know you care, they are much more willing to listen to what you have to say and give, when its your turn to talk.
When I train Community Chaplains, I teach that we should work toward listening 80% of the time and talking only 20% of the time in our interaction with someone. This is also a good rule-of-thumb in a coaching relationship. If you are leading a small group, speaking no more than 30% of the time is a good goal. In just an everyday conversation at work or in your home, have you ever just paused to be self-aware of whether you are monopolizing a conversation or attentively and empathetically listening to the other person? Try it today.
Great listening lets people know they are respected and valued. This is true of children, spouses, co-workers, neighbors and strangers.
Great listeners “hold up a mirror” so others can see themselves. Listening has a great “reflecting” quality to it. Others have a chance to think out loud and see the facts more clearly—like wiping the shower steam off the bathroom mirror. Good reflection can bring reality, focus and clarity to help persons become better aware of what they are doing, or understanding their own identity.
Great listening helps provide accurate information. When we really listen, we are a whole lot less likely to jump to conclusions and move beyond making assumptions. We have a better chance of seeing the whole picture.
There are a lot of other essentials for excellent listening. The verbal and non-verbal sides both need to be present. Asking the right kind of open-ended questions is an invaluable skill you can learn. Stay tuned. We’ll talk about those in future posts.
QUESTION: Any other benefits to listening you want to add? Share it below. Thanks!