The Heart of Listening
February 11, 2014 – by Kristen Manieri
(Photo by Scott Cook)
I’m a terrible listener. That’s not a confession; it’s what my 4-year-old daughter told me last January.
“Well, you’re in luck,” I said. “Mommy is starting a listening class tonight.”
“What’s a listening class?” she asked. The truth is, I really had no idea. The idea of taking a course in something I’ve done my entire life seemed both obtuse and oddly ironic.
According to Professor of Communication Rick Bommelje, more than 1,500 people have taken his Listening course since it was first offered in 1992. The 15-week course is a requirement for communication studies majors and a popular elective for non-majors. But each semester when Bommelje asks how many students have taken a listening class before, the result is always the same: zero.
“As the father of the field of listening, Ralph Nichols, said years ago, ‘Our education system is upside down.’ The thing we do the most of, we have the least amount of formal education in,” Bommelje says. “The curriculum in most elementary and secondary schools is established through state mandated initiatives and, unfortunately, listening is not considered to be a basic skill.”
Come again. NOT a basic skill?
In a 2011 TED Talk, Julian Treasure, author of the book Sound Business, shared that we spend about 60 percent of our communication time listening. “But we’re not very good at it. We retain just 25 percent of what we hear,” he said. Treasure suggested that, thanks to the ability to record, we are losing our ability to listen. “The premium on accurate and careful listening has simply disappeared. We don’t want oratory anymore; we want sound bites.”
Treasure thinks that’s a serious problem.
A world where we don’t listen to each other at all is a very scary place indeed.
“This is not trivial because listening is our access to understanding. Conscious listening always creates understanding. A world where we don’t listen to each other at all is a very scary place indeed.”
Bommelje agrees. “Where there is no awareness, there is no growth. If people are not able to learn solid foundations of listening, repeated errors can be made,” he says. “The costs can be measured in many ways, including loss of relationships, of trust, of credibility, of money—even loss of life.”
So, let’s all get on the same page: Learning to listen effectively is important. The why is clear; the how is not.
On the first day of class, I arrived early to watch a mix of students shuffle in looking both curious and puzzled. Through discussion and a quick listening test, the realization set in that none of us is a very good listener. I immediately felt hit in the gut with a mix of regret and shame.
I wish I could tell you that what followed was a lesson similar to learning how to count cards in Vegas. My Type A brain had naively hoped to be taught a series of techniques designed to help me remember people’s names and stay more focused when my mother chatters away on the phone. But it turns out that there is much more of an art to listening than there is a science. Sure, it’s a skill, but it has more to do with intention than ability.
In our fourth week, Bommelje shared a quote by David Augsburger that I’ll never forget: “Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people can’t tell the difference.” I immediately thought of my two daughters and realized that I had allowed their bouncy chatter and constant requests to become a dull murmur, like a radio buzzing quietly in the background. No wonder they thought I was a terrible listener. And while I had demonstrated my love in so many ways since they were born, I’d neglected to offer the most loving gesture of all: my listening.
The day after this jarring epiphany, I donned a purple plastic bracelet on my wrist and showed it to my girls. “What’s that for?” my eldest asked.
“It’s my listening bracelet, and I’m wearing it to remind myself to be a better listener,” I told her. “But I need your help too. Can you remind me to be a better listener if you sense I’m not listening to you?” I asked. They both enthusiastically agreed.
Over the course of the next two months, I wish I could say I became a world-class listener, but the reality is that Bommelje’s course did more to highlight my deficiencies than rectify them. That’s not a fault of the course; it’s just a reality of our humanness. Unlike riding a bike or learning to whistle, listening isn’t a skill you learn once and then master; it takes years of careful intention to undo decades of the narcissistic wiring that causes us to blab rather than hear.
For me, Listening was more than a class; it was a signpost that marked when I went from being a person who never considered the quality of her listening to a person who feels a little pang of penitence ever y time she misses the chance to truly hear another person, to love someone with her full attention. It was the beginning of a journey, not the completion of a course.
LISTENING PAYS! Achieve Significance through the Power of Listening
One of the questions on a 3600 Listening Behavior Assessment for leaders asks observers: What suggestions do you have for her/him to improve their listening behavior?
Following is a sampling of actual responses
· Interrupting is one of his worst behaviors, so he should listen fully before giving his input.
· She can be very black and white in how she looks at things and it can sometimes come across very strongly in her reactions when it might not be necessary.
· He should show patience with those who do not express themselves in the way he would want. Also, sometimes he doesn’t respond with the familiar “social niceties” that a speaker expects, i.e. nodding and making eye contact.
· He never follows up ensuring that he has completed the task or assignment given. If you want to know the details (i.e., who, what, when, where, & why), you have to go back to him in order to find out what happened. This kills his creditability.
· Sometimes she may have to leave her agenda at the door and gauge where the other person is coming from at the time. She may shut down if she has an emotional reaction to something she’s heard
Consider the negative impact that these non-listening behaviors might have on the leaders’ immediate employees, teams, and organizations. Imagine the costs — loss of morale, productivity, trust, respect, credibility and performance, just to name a few. The bigger question is: What would others say about your listening behavior?
The Listening Circle: Using the SBI Model to Enhance Peer Feedback
The Listening Circle is a learning activity that is designed to provide students with the opportunity 5 to connect listening knowledge with observed behaviors and to strengthen student peer feedback. Not knowing how to give feedback can result in messages that are confusing, tactless, and counter-productive.Many feedback messages leave the receiver unsure of what to do with the information.By using a process that was developed by Sloan Weitzel of the Center for Creative Leadership, the Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) model has been adapted for this activity. Students are able to learn 10 and practice a structure that helps keep feedback focused and relevant and increases the likelihood the feedback will be received in a clear, non-defensive manner by their peers. Concise, clear, and meaningful peer feedback is essential to learning and to sound assessment practice.
SHOW ME A GREAT LEADER AND I’LL SHOW YOU A GREAT LISTENER
Highly effective listening leaders clearly understand that listening and leading are inseparable. Moreover, highly effective listening leaders understand, value, and engage four levels of listening leadership. The four distinct levels of listening leadership that must be mastered and practiced include:1. First: Listening to and leading your self.2. Second: Listening to and leading others.3. Third: Teaching and engaging other listening leaders.
4. Fourth: Teaching others how to teach and engage other listening leaders.
THE POWER OF DISTRACTIONS
Distractions are everywhere and waiting to capture our attention but we all have the power to reduce, eliminate, or listen beyond them and deal with the real issues that matter to us.
I’M ALL EARS – WHY MANAGERS MUST DEVELOP EFFECTIVE LISTENING SKILLS
The best leaders share a common secret: They successfully lead because they effectively listen. Good listening, however, seems to be a rare management skill. Unfortunately, many people work with leaders who interrupt, are rude and boorish, and devalue their direct reports. Imagine how their negative behavior damages the morale, productivity, and effectiveness of their organizations.
THE TOP 10 WAYS TO STRENGTHEN YOUR SELF LEADERSHIP
Self-Leadership is the first level of leadership and applies to any person, whether or not they hold a management or supervisory position. Self leadership is the ability of someone to guide themselves to positive places that they have never been before. It enables a person to fulfill their potential while building a strong foundation from which to make daily decisions — both professionally and personally. Without a strong sense of self-leadership, people can feel out of control, overwhelmed and un- focused.
HOW CAN YOU LEAD IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO A-S-K
A-S-K (the development of Attitudes, Skills, and Knowledge) has provided many leaders with a set of useful listening leadership guidelines. Outstanding listeners should be constantly reminded that serving others as a leader begins and ends by refining listening attitudes, knowledge, and skills. Establishing positive and productive listening attitudes and constantly expanding knowledge about listening and leadership provides the required foundation for developing and refining the basic underpinning of specific listening skills and behaviors.
HOW CAN YOU LEAD IF YOU DON’T HAVE ANY FOLLOWERS?
Each of us can easily name a few of our histories great leaders – Mahatma Ghandi, John Kennedy, Rosa Parks – there are many reasons why we consider leadership great. One particular item is undeniable. Great leaders have followers. Followers who choose to take paths not taken, for belief and trust in their leader.
HOW TO BE A GREAT LEADER THROUGH THE POWER OF LISTENING
One of the most successful approaches to great listening is the SIER Formula. Listening is defined as a 4-step process:S ensing