Many leaders believe they are good listeners. Many of their followers would beg to differ. Yet good listening is a powerful tool that can make a real difference in people’s lives. How good a listener are you really?
This is what being a good listener looks like:
1. You listen without waiting just waiting for your turn
Often when we listen to someone else, we’re formulating our response in our head. That means we are more focused on getting our own point across then really listening to what the other person is saying. In a worst case scenario, we don’t even wait till the other person is finished talking and we interrupt. When we start doing that, we can be sure we’ve pretty much stopped listening.
2. You listen without interpreting
We all filter the words of others through our own filter, colored by our knowledge, experiences, personal hang ups, etc. In short: we interpret. But interpreting is often the opposite of good listening because we use our filters, not the filter of the person we’re talking to. It’s hard to listen without interpreting, because it requires us to really let go of our own needs and baggage.
3. You ask questions
Instead of replying with answers, solutions or advice, good listeners respond with questions. That’s because they want to dig to the core of the matter and aren’t satisfied with the easy, superficial answers.
4. You are able to summarize in their own words
A good listener is able to summarize what the other person has said in their own words. This is especially important when it comes to feelings. Using our own words automatically adds an interpretation. You’ll be surprised how powerful it can be for someone to hear you summarize what they have just said in their own words. They’ll feel like you have truly listened to them.
Good listening isn’t just about certain skills. At the heart, it’s about wanting to serve instead of being served. As Stephen Covey formulated so well: it’s about seeking to understand before being understood (one of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). Good listeners let go of their own ego and are willing to come last because they want to understand the other first.
After good listening comes a good response. Basically there are two types of people:
- Those that respond with advice
- Those that respond by affirming the underlying feelings
I read this great book years ago about the differences in communication between men and women (Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand). In general, women will seek to maintain the status quo and will affirm the other person’s feelings, offering sympathy and a shared experience (‘I had the exact same thing last year when I…’). Men on the contrary will seek to establish their superior position by offering advice. There’s one of the core issues in marital communication problems right there.
But let’s face it, neither one shows good listening skills per se. Being a good listener means responding in a way that makes the other person feel heard and understood. At the height of emotions, most of us don’t want to hear advice, we can’t even hear it. And we can get frustrated when someone starts sharing their story, because it distracts and diminishes our story.
Most of the time, when people share their feelings, they just want to be heard. Good listeners do just that, they listen, they as questions, they don’t interpret and summarize in the other’s words. Just listen, don’t offer anything but your ears. Nine out of ten times that’s enough.
Personally, I’m a bad listener. Seriously, I have a lot of growing to do in that area. My weakness is the interpreting what others are saying, I have a hard time letting go of my own filters. But I want to improve my listening skills because I’ve come to see the importance of being heard more and more. If you’re not convinced yet about the power of listening, just read tomorrow’s interview with Rebecca Hamer whose listening service is changing the lives of young women…by ‘just’ listening.
How good a listener are you? Which area of good listening is your weak area?
P.S. Wanna learn more about being a good listener and about communicating effectively with young people? Check out my book: Beyond Small Talk: Connecting With Teenagers Through Conversations That Matter which features loads of practical tips for having real conversations with students!