Listening: Can You Hear What I’m Not Saying?

Communication is a funny thing.  We all do it yet some people are better at it than others.  In fact some people build an entire organization around their ability to listen.  Essentially this is what conflict management and personal coaching is based on- listening to the needs and desires of others.

So what makes some people good at this and others…not so much?  In his book “Everyone Communicates Few Connect” Author and Leader John Maxwell identifies the real core value of listening and why it is much much harder to do than we might think.

Listening as Policy

In a number of the businesses I have consulted to I was able to find some value statement inside of the mission statement or procedure manual about how to prioritize listening and how to engage in conversations.  From hiring procedures to disciplinary action… from senior managers to client care representatives…the ability to listen is  articulated across organizational structures.  However, this does not mean its done well or even at all.  When I am asked to engage teams often there is conflict within.  Some sort of tension that stems from lack of trust and if followed to the root has a lot to do with the ability (you guessed it) to listen…or not.

No matter how hard we nail corporate policy-listening is far more than a static procedure.

It seems like such an obvious piece but it is frequently missed.  When conflict arises the initial reaction is to look for a fix that manages fall-out or consequences.  We offer a refund to a customer who is not happy, we remove or reprimand someone for not fulfilling their role, etc.  We might express our point of view; we might even apologize.  In many ways this puts us at risk for bigger issues if we are not seeking connection with others.  Our listening is put to the test in highly emotional situations and if we haven’t learned to  engage it – it will show here in a glaringly obvious way.  We cannot rely solely on written value statements to have listening be actualized in our every day engagements and in those of our team,

Listening as Practice

You’ve done this. I’ve done this.  We bring a note pad, an agenda, an already fully formed outcome before a single word is uttered.  Our listening is shallow and focused on one thing-finding a solution.  We  create our own internal pressure to “get to the bottom of things” and resolve things quickly.  We define success as “its done”; and above all else we want to remove the problem…sound familiar?

Listening becomes a means to an end.  Our time is spent formulating responses and analyzing arguments.  We know what we’re going to say next before the person talking has time to finish their thoughts.  We might even talk over them in our eagerness to respond.  It might feel efficient and even “professional”.  You may even get positive feedback about being able to “think on your feet” and look incredibly equipped because you have answer for everything.

Our practice of “listening”” is weaponized and deployed with strategic cunning to either catch others unaware or to advance our predetermined priority.  The outcomes may have external appeal but ultimately ring hollow for those we engage.  They know instinctively we have not heard them. At times the response to being told others do not feel heard falls on our deaf ears- because listening was a part of our process- so it must be them…its not us.  When you have a position of authority and this is happening- you lose all credibility and all status as someone who is competent.  It is devastating for morale and clients alike.

When we weaponize listening our so-called success of solving problems is a false victory for us and those we are working with.  

Listening for Connection

Human beings communicate to connect.  The bottom line is we are social beings driven by our desire to belong.  Listening is key to that desire.  We don’t just communicate to share wants and needs.  If we did we would still be living in the jungles with our cousins the primates.  We are not merely animals with instincts- we are complex beings with minds not just brains.  Listening to connect is the essence of communication.  When thought of like this the act of listening takes on an entirely different meaning.  Its not a static “you talk- I respond” scenario. Its all encompassing and dynamic.  It’s our hearts reaching for one another.  Sound corny?  Ok- maybe a little- but go here with me for a second….

If we  put aside our policy and our practice- what would happen to the experiences we have?  Is it possible that THIS is what our clients want from us, our team  requires of us and potentially- what scares us the most?  Connection is a vulnerable thing because you have to  be open rather than closed.  You have to be able to  move towards others rather than focus on problems.

Listening with the intent of connecting addresses the shortfalls of conflict resolution and failed transparency in leaders.  

Listening for connection allows us to see beyond the words being used to the meaning and the emotions behind those words.  It  causes us to hesitate to “zing” someone with our wit and knowledge and FEEL where they are.  That connection can reduce the need for edgy and costly actions and can create new ground where ideas form and results are mutual.  As business owners, leaders and  organizational managers- we must invest in advancing our skills as connected listeners.  Without this we fail utterly to support those we are responsible for.  More than that- we shut ourselves off from internal growth that will serve us time and time again.

Reflection Questions:

  1. In your organization- in the role you have- what would happen to your hiring process, your conflict management procedure, your team’s effectiveness and your love of your work if you and those around you shifted towards listening for connection?
  2. Do you see people’s bodies, tone and facial expressions as modifiers for how you understand where they are coming from?  Do you “deep listen” so you can connect rather than just respond?  What holds you back from doing this more?
  3. There is risk to you in connecting and really listening to those around you.  Imagine yourself doing this- how does it feel?  What support will you need to ensure you can do this on a regular basis?  Do you have what you need to listen for connection?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and your stories.  Please leave a comment below.  Want to keep the conversation going?   How can I help you?  Join my mailing list and I will help you find your path to listening for connection.

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