Listening beyond words

Think of a time when you were overwhelmed, angry, discouraged.  Do you have it in mind?  What was your mindset?  Were you focused on all that was wrong about the situation, a particular person?  Not able to see a way around the negativity?  How does your body feel right now as you reflect about the situation?

Now imagine, someone whom you don’t even know very well comes to you and notices you are visibly upset.  They sit and listen to you attentively.  No questions.  No advice.  Just focused on you with direct eye contact and an occasional nodding that conveys “I hear you, I’m with you”.  How are you feeling now?

Next imagine this person is your Boss.  They have dropped what they were doing, took time to listen as you talked about the demands you are under.  How does that affect your perception of this person?  Are you more inclined to feel more valued as a team member?  Be more engaged as an employee?

Mindful Listening is becoming the norm instead of the exception at major corporations such as Google, General Mills, and Aetna who have integrated mindfulness into their leadership.  They have found that when leaders take the time to genuinely listen and care about their employees, employees in turn are more engaged and overall committed to the mission of the organization.  The result is higher productivity and less turnover.

Below are 5 ways to improve your listening skills and hear beyond the words what the person is saying: 

  1. Give your full attention – Let your focus be on looking at the speaker.  If your mind becomes distracted, redirect your attention to truly listening to what the person is saying.
  2. Be aware of your own reaction – Perhaps you want to respond, defend yourself, or ask a question.  Notice whatever arises and direct your focus back to the speaker.  Use your breathing to keep your attention on being present.
  3. Listen from a perspective of curiosity – Have a genuine interest to understand where the speaker is coming from and setting aside any judgmental thoughts you may have about what they are saying.
  4. When the person has stopped talking – Continue to be silent.  Give them space to just be.  There might be more they have to say, even a shift in their perspective by staying present with them without talking.
  5. If the speaker asks for your feedback – Acknowledge the underlying feeling you heard.  For example, “it sounds like you feel overwhelmed” or “I hear how frustrating this situation is”.  Use your discretion as to whether if now is the appropriate time to give feedback.  The most important thing about listening is validating the speaker’s feelings.  Let them know you appreciate hearing what is troubling them and set up another time to give feedback.

If you would like to learn more about how listening can help you deal with difficult employees and people, consider attending the workshop of April 1st – “Innovative Solutions for Business Leaders…Dealing with difficult employees and people.”

Make a Conscious Choice to listen beyond words and notice what happens to your staff retention, collaboration, and engagement.

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