Leadership and the Art of Listening
Listening is such an important skill, yet so poorly practiced by so many. If anyone is going to achieve their potential, personal or professional, they need to be superb listeners.
Therefore, we want to shine a light on this skill and encourage everyone to consider how they can become better listeners - listeners that make a difference.
When someone listens to you, fully present to what you are saying, it is a remarkable experience. When that person is absolutely with you, interested in your every word, you feel known. You experience being understood and respected.
People grow and expand when they experience being listened to; they get present to themselves as someone who is valued. Trust begins to develop. That is why actively listening is so important to leadership development.
Mastery of leadership requires masterful listening, attuned and in harmony with the speaker. This means stopping the chatter of your mind. Focus on their issues. Be present to them.
There are two aspects of masterful listening in leadership.
- One is attention, self-awareness. It is receiving information through what we hear with our ears whilst opening all our other senses. The attention is on the information coming in: words, impressions, a shift in energy, non-verbal messages, new concepts.
- The second is what we do with our listening. The impact of our actions; based upon our listening to the other person. The results of really listening; turned into action. There are three levels of listening. Mastery of each will give you enormous range and capacity to listen and be effective.
Level 1: Internal Listening
At this level, our attention is on ourselves. Most people operate most of the time from here. We listen to the other person and at the same time focus on what it means for us. At this level, although we appear to be listening, the spotlight is on ourselves; our thoughts, our judgements, our feelings and our conclusions about the other person.
Level 1 is important; it informs us about our world and ourselves.
Individuals and teams mostly operate here. Leaders need to learn not to operate at this self-absorbed level for any length of time. Listening as a leader starts at level 2.
Level 2: Active Listening
Here there is a sharp focus on the other person. Attention is concentrated on being present to them, their issues and concerns, their words, their emotions. You notice what they say, how they say it. You notice what they don’t say.
You listen for what they value. You listen for their vision and what gives them energy, where they come alive, where they go flat or withdrawn. You learn to listen to the quiet music behind their words, their deeper beliefs, assumptions and inconsistencies.
You reflect back their concerns, dreams, uncertainties. Like a mirror, you absorb none of the light. What is said is returned with compassion and understanding. You do not offer opinions, solutions or actions, until you sense this would be appropriate. Through this level of listening you are inviting the other to draw on their inner wisdom and move beyond their anxiety and self-doubt. When the timing is right, you co-create solutions with them.
At this level of listening, you are consistently taking opportunities to empower others to find their voice and take responsibility for solutions. They grow in self-confidence and are more willing to risk new ideas.
As a leader learning to listen at this optimum level requires awareness and repetitive practice. The power of gentle silence draws the other out and demonstrates respect for what they are saying. Practise brings mastery. If you complain that others don’t listen to you, it is highly probable that you are not listening to them. Remember, taking time to understand what someone is saying, does not mean that you necessarily agree with them. The perceived power of leadership often means we unintentionally cut others off.
Learn how to understand before being understood.
Level 3: Listening Universe
Here you are open to receiving information from everything around you. Picture a spider’s web, with both of you at the centre; open to any vibration, intuitive sense, deeper connection, spontaneous thought.
At this profound level of listening you gain information that is not directly observable, often beyond the immediate environment. You are able to also detect subtle feelings emanating from the other and reflect these back to them.
You are not attached to what you notice. You merely offer to them what you sense. This requires a developed high level of emotional intelligence; a conscious awareness of the power of connectivity and life force.
Deepening your Listening
How often do you consider your level of listening? This is a valuable question to be with, over time. A great way to improve is to give yourself feedback.
‘How well did I listen?’
‘What level was I operating from?’
Give yourself a rating from 1-10 for each of levels 2 and 3.
How well are you ‘recovering’ from listening at level 1?
Level 1 is always present, so how do you ‘recover’ or ‘get back’ to listening at higher levels?
Only by developing greater self-awareness can you become conscious and notice when you are listening at level 1. Others will notice or sense it. Shift gears and move up a level.
Following through on agreed actions after the activity of listening, is about your integrity as a leader and your reputation for building trust.
Trust, respect and listening are the foundation of results.
This will have a positive effect on all your relationships. And, it costs you nothing.