Being able to listen in a world that craves connection and more communication than ever is critical to becoming successful. Being able to listen at work, to your spouse, and to yourself is becoming increasingly challenging as we enter the 2020s.
The skill of listening is actually one of the most often used skills we need to bring with us each day. In fact, we can spend up to 80% of our waking hours in some form of communication with 45% of those hours requiring us to listen.
So why are many of us so bad at it?
Because we are not adequately taught about the four levels of listening (which I will explain shortly) in school and even in our professional development opportunities.
Think about the last conversation you had about a problem at work. Were you listening up to a certain point and then tuned out the remainder fo the conversation? Or did you listen and nod your head until you formulated the answer you wanted and pounced on a pause in the conversation to provide your solution to the problem?
At home, did you forget to take out the trash or to do some other task because you were thinking about something else when your spouse asked you to do a specific task?
If either of these scenarios applies to you, it is time to become a better listener.
Let me explain.
A few weeks ago I was in Toronto attending a Tamarack Institute focused on 21st century thought leadership and stakeholder engagement and one of the huge light bulb moments for me was when they thoroughly broke down the four levels of listening. My mind was opened up as this was something that two degrees and a high school education never formerly taught me. Let me break down the most rudimentary form of this soft skill as well as the most dynamic form of listening that can elevate your success in the market and in your home in the 2020s.
This is the lowest form of listening which is summed up very well in this short video:
Simply put — Don’t be the guy in the red shirt.
This level is more rudimentary but also plagues our places of work and our relationships. Why? Because in a distracted society, it is the easiest way to get through 45% of our day with as little cognitive bandwidth as possible.
With this level, it is less about what it sounds like and more about what is going on in the listener’s head. For example, you may be listening about a complex problem that someone is sharing but as soon as you have come up with the solution you immediately turn off from whatever else the person may be trying to convey. Once they stop speaking, you are able to provide an answer quickly. This is great, but the listening skills you used to solve the problem were mediocre at best. Think about the last time this happened to you in a meeting. Could you tell from the person’s face that they had tuned out what you were really saying? If so, that meeting probably had a mixed bag of selective listening. Most meetings (even in great companies) land at this level of listening.
This level is where many of us land and think we are good. This level sounds like, “Wow, that sounds tough. Here is my suggestion that might help you” or “Next time, you should consider doing X instead of Y”. At this level, we are providing solutions rather than just hearing out the individual and digging deeper into why they feel how they feel or why things are happening the way they are happening. The reason why many of us arrive and remain at this level is because of two things.
- Time — we need to be productive and profitable and we often need to solve complex problems quickly through our leadership
- Patience — we are often dealing with so much in our own lives that it not only makes us feel better about ourselves in providing a quick solution, it also allows us to move on to solving the next thing.
The 2020s are all about connection and if we are going to broker strong relationships in our fast-paced, relationship-driven environments, we need to arrive at the highest level of listening, daily.
This is the highest level of listening that we should aim to reach daily in all areas of our lives to become successful. This level sounds like, “tell me more about this problem” or “you mentioned you feel really bad, can you explain more about those feelings?”. This level of listening is the hardest level to reach because practicing empathy is really hard. It is even harder when the pace of life and business is at an all-time high.
At work, empathy does not always equal productivity.
At home, empathy takes more effort, especially at the end of a long day.
With yourself, empathy requires personal honesty which is uncomfortable.
However, as we enter a decade that is seeing a massive spike in social isolation, connection deficits, and social anxiety, we need to be dedicated to working on our empathetic listening muscle if we are to broker strong relationship and become successful in the market and at home.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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