The Art of Listening, Part 2
In The Art of Listening, Part 1, we talked about listening as a contract sport, not a passive moment of non-participation. If I’m speaking, I need you to be as engaged as I am in the conversation. Otherwise, I’m just talking to air. Listening is making meaning with your senses: being radically self-aware of where your mind is and sharing your kinesthetic energy with the person you’re listening to. We can do that because the way we listen affects not just the outcome of the conversation but the psyche of the person you’re listening to. She can detect a hostile listener or some who is bored and tuned out. She can detect an engaged listener who’s excited to be in conversation with her. Which do you think will help her express herself clearly? The person who’s connected with her and who gets her.
Listening Is a Two-Way Street
But here is where we turn listening on its head. Because listening isn’t only for the person with their mouth closed. Intense, engaged listening is also required from the person doing the talking. You can’t just flap your gums and hope I’m following you. Because you may be giving me nothing to listen to. You may think you’re talking to me but you’re not. You’re talking to yourself.
How do you know? Listen.
“It’s a common mistake to speak the same to everybody. We all have different filters.”
— Julian Treasure
Listen to Yourself.
If you’re not intensely focused on what you’re saying, why should I be? So many people talk without hearing a word they’re saying, just free-associating, tossing sentences out from the top of their mind. When you listen to what you’re saying, a number of good things start to happen.
First, you’ll speak more slowly and clearly. You’ll probably use shorter sentences and pause more. You won’t be speaking from memory (playing your greatest hits, the lines you think make you sound smart or get a laugh), you’ll be creating thought in the moment, expressing ideas that are part of a shared narrative with your listener.
Some years ago, I was invited to speak to a yoga organization in London. I was used to speaking a lot at the time, talking to different groups, so I didn’t feel the need to prepare anything special. I spoke for about twenty minutes and, when I asked for questions, a hand went up from a gentleman near the front.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said.
So I tried to explain it again. The problem was, I had no idea what I’d been babbling on about. So I tried to recreate it. It didn’t go well. Finally, another man raised his hand and, perhaps referring to my American accent, suggested I go back where I came from.
As moments of humiliation go, blowing a speech in front of 300 people is right up there. But what I took away from that experience made a profound difference in my life. I started paying serious attention to anything that came out of my mouth. And I started being intensely focused on reading the people I was speaking to.
Listen to the Listener
As a coach, I listen intently to the bright leaders I work with. And when I start to say something, I listen intently to the person in front of me. I listen to their breathing. I “listen” to their facial expressions and the way their eyes move. I can “hear” them tracking me or losing interest.
If they’re with me, I keep going until I make a point and invite a response. If they’re not with me, I ask questions to find out where they are. Because here’s the thing: what I say doesn’t matter very much. What matters is what you hear and what you make of it. Your mind takes in everything I’m serving up – in my voice, in my expressions, in my movements – and makes a story out of it. You literally create your own version of me speaking and then you listen to that.
In that gap between what I think I’m saying and what you think you heard, there’s a wide gulf and we both have to be conscious of it. Creating a “listening” is not just the listener’s responsibility. It’s on everybody.
Speaking So That People Listen.
Julian Treasure is an expert in speaking and listening, with TED Talks that have nearly 40 millions views. He says that people get so excited with the thrill of speaking that they lose track of the conversation – they go entirely in their head.
He offers his HAIL practice to help you be a better listener. “The H, honesty, is being true in what you say, being straight and clear. The A is authenticity, just being yourself. The I is integrity, being your word, actually doing what you say, and being somebody people can trust. And the L is love, wishing people well.”
That tracks so closely with our format of radical self-awareness, being intensely curious, sharing energy and being kinesthetic. Listening means connecting to the person in front of you and encouraging them to be wholehearted, whether they’re speaking or you are.
What’s the ROI on listening well? It’s an exponential increase in your ability to connect with other human beings. Which, by the way, is what you were born to do.