The ability to listen well is an important tool for understanding others. Sadly, very few people know how to listen well. In fact, most people can think of only one or two good listeners in their lives. Listening is not simply agreeing – it is much more. Good listeners are able to better understand and respond to others, complete assignments accurately, settle disagreements before they escalate, and establish rapport with difficult people.
Listening is often confused with hearing. This serious misconception can lead us to believe that good listening is instinctive. In fact, good listening is an active, sophisticated process – a learned behavior – that demands focus and attention. Listening takes place on several levels. We often move from one level to the other throughout the day, sometimes even within a single conversation. Our listening level often depends on the situation. Some of us listen to our boss but not to our team members. Others listen well at work but tune out their spouse or kids at home.
The Three Levels of Listening
We all need to strive to be good listeners. Deep listeners are able to free themselves of any distractions. Including their own thoughts and feelings. They listen to the talker without judgement and place themselves in the talkers shoes. They notice the words and the feelings behind the words, what is not said and they acknowledge and
respond respectfully. This level of listening is heart centered, which opens the door to respect and understanding.
Most people think content listening is real listening. Content listeners listen to words of a communication but ignore all the other elements of the message. They often listen logically and remain detached from the conversation, making little effort to understand the talkers intent. Content listening can lead to serious misunderstandings and is especially deceptive because it appears the listener is tuned in.
Superficial listeners are often judging, daydreaming, or rehersing their response this is essentially hearing, not listening. The listener is tuning in and out thinking little of the talker, and mainly listening for a chance to jump in and take over the conversation. People who listen at this level are pretending to listen and are often quiet and passive.
To achieve deep listening, the listener must take on certain responsibilities to help the talker and to ensure that there is agreement about the interpretation and intent of a message. Specifically, the listener must focus on the talker and pay close attention to what is being said. Strive to understand the meaning of the message and respond accordingly. Keep in mind that the response lets the talker know whether or not the message is getting through and allows him or her to adjust the message accordingly.
Determine the talker’s needs during the interaction. At the beginning of a conversation, the talker may be tentative and not say what he or she means. Whether he or she continues often depends on the listener’s initial response. Stay neutral and try to listen objectively. Direct, clear communication rarely occurs when information flows one way. Listening blocks are obstacles that interfere with our listening they prevent the listener from successfully receiving or interpreting a message. These blocks can be verbal or nonverbal barriers to effective listening. The most common listening blocks are the listener tunes out or is not paying attention to the talker. The listener is bored or just not interested in the talker or the subject. The listener is thinking about other things and is detached. Sometimes a listener focuses primarily on the facts, ignoring the emotional elements of a message. The listener becomes emotionally detached from the talker. The listener is concerned with content only and not the feelings behind it. The listener is only half listening and not really interacting with the talker. Missing the underlying meaning of the message. It’s easy to fall into the rehearsal trap. The listener is concentrating on what to say or do next and is failing to focus on the talkers message. A judgmental listener quickly analyzes and interprets a talker’s delivery or message, not allowing the talker to finish making a point. Often is quick to advise and criticize. Makes assumptions before fully comprehending what the talker is saying. When a control block is in place, very little listening is going on. The listener is not allowing the talker to speak at his or her own pace and is constantly interrupting with comments or questions. Preventing the talker from finishing a point when a listener blocks the communication, the talker can experience some less than positive feelings. This happens because instead of listening to the message, the listener begins to rearch for more information, advise the listener about how to handle the situation, or criticize the talker about how he or she is handling the situation.
Often, if you hold off on these behaviors, you will get the information you want without asking questions. Effective listening means avoiding the listening blocks so that the talker can deliver the message in his or her own way.
The Core Listening Model
The CORE listening model identifies the four key elements of deep listening. The term CORE is derived from the Latin word COR, which means heart. Deep listening is the ability to get to the heart of the matter and to listen in an empathic, heart-felt manner.
Chose to listen
Open the communication
Reflect the essence
Expand the communication
Choosing to listen involves paying attention and finding an appropriate context for listening. Paying attention takes effort! Although you may appear to be listening, you can become lost in your thoughts, your feelings, the past, the future, another location (home, office, vacation) As a listener, it is your job to stay focused on each interaction. You have the power to fully understand the interaction and assist the talker. You can choose to pay attention or to take a mental vacation. Your body language shows the talker that you are interested in what he or she has to say. It also helps you direct attention to the talker. Lean forward slightly; don’t slouch. Stand or sit face-to-face with the talker. Keep arms and legs uncrossed. Remain relaxed, not tense or fidgety. Use appropriate facial expressions.
Maintain eye contact. Finding the appropriate context is also important. As the listener, you often have choices about when and where to listen. When preparing to listen consider when is the best time and place to have the communication. What you want to accomplish with your communication, how might the other person react to your response, and are you in a calm and clear state of mind to listen and respond.
If you choose not to listen because it happens to be an inappropriate time or place to discuss an issue, you need to reschedule the conversation. As a rule, don’t assume that you’ve understood the talker’s message. Whenever necessary, reflect the essence of a message. This means checking with the talker to ensure that your understanding of the message’s content and feeling are accurate.
Opening the communication is about building rapport between the talker and listener. This includes establishing a connection and building common ground. By doing this well, you lay the groundwork for the subsequent interaction and are more likely to achieve positive results
As a rule, don’t assume that you’ve understood the talker’s message. Whenever necessary, reflect the essence of a message. This means checking with the talker to ensure that your understanding of the message’s content and feeling are accurate.
Listening is a two way process. Your role as a listener includes the ability to expand the communication by initiating an appropriate response and getting to the heart of the issue under discussion.
In conclusion, reflecting content refers to clarifying the main idea of the message and the details that support it. Reflecting feeling refers to verifying the emotions surrounding the message. Emotions are difficult to identify because they are abstract. Talkers don’t always come right out and say how they are feeling. Sometimes a listener must go beyond the content and dig deeper for the meaning of a message. The listener needs to take a more active role, checking for verbal and non-verbal cues that indicate feelings and emotions.
Netsyndicate, Inc. (1999) Are you really listening? available at http://www.click2learn.com/lessons/netsyndicate/listen/sections/index.html
Pearson, J., ; Nelson, P. (1997). An introduction to human communication