Here’s a question I have asked in numerous workshops over the past few months: How many of you have had formal training in listening?
It never fails to stun me when only about 10 percent of the attendees raise their hands. Listening is such a critical skill—and yet so few have been trained in how to do it. Here is a short course.
What does it mean to really listen?
Dictionary.com defines the word listen as follows:
lis·ten [lis–uhn] verb
1. To give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing
2. To pay attention; heed
Yes, it means to hear; but it also means to pay attention—with our ears, our eyes, and our hearts.
Listen to more than the words
True listeners look beyond the words themselves—they search for meaning in the speaker’s tone and body language. This is especially important when the communication has an emotional component.
A study done by Dr. Albert Mehrabian at UCLA looked at the degrees to which emotional messages are sent through words, tone, and body language. Regarding the true meaning of an emotional message, Dr. Mehrabian found:
- 7 percent of meaning is in the words that are spoken
- 38 percent of meaning is in the tone of voice—the way the words are said
- 55 percent of meaning is in facial expression
If what we are hearing is different from what we are sensing from the tone or the facial expression, guess which one is correct!
Show You Are Listening
Part of really listening is responding in a way that shows the other person we are paying attention. We can demonstrate we are truly listening in four different ways. For example, if a coworker comes to you and complains about their micromanaging boss, you could show you are listening by:
- Reflecting back the content
Example: As you see it, your boss is micromanaging you…
- Reflecting back the feeling
Example: So you feel frustrated because…
- Reflecting both content and feeling
Example: You feel frustrated because your boss is micromanaging you…
- Being silent and attentive
A helpful phrase to show you are listening might be:
So you feel ___________________ because ______________________.
Other helpful phrases might include:
- You seem…
- You sound…
- What I’m hearing is…
- As you see it…
- Tell me more…
- Is there anything else…
Not only is listening to others a key life skill, it can also have a tremendous impact on building trust in a relationship. When we take the time to listen, we show the other person that we care—that we are interested in understanding their perspective. That can go a long way toward building, or rebuilding, a relationship.
“The purpose of life is to listen – to yourself, to your neighbor, to your world and to God and, when the time comes, to respond in as helpful a way as you can find … from within and without.” ~ Fred Rogers
“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something.” ~ Wilson Mizner
About the author
John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance and self-leadership.