Very often when people think of working on their communication skills, they’ll say they need to boost their speaking / presentation / influencing skills. Fair enough – those are indeed applications of communication skills – yet I have a sneaking suspicion that the focus is on transmitting more than receiving. I think the most under-rated communication skill is listening. Really listening. Being able to listen actively and deeply to what other people are really saying is a vital skill. It’s why listening is a key part of Zoomly’s ‘How to communicate with clarity’ workshop.
I think listening is a poor relation in the communication skills toolkit as it can be hard to see. It’s pretty straightforward to assess someone’s skills as a speaker or presenter. Influencing and negotiating can be trickier to measure, depending on the people and subject involved, but we have lots of cues to go on. But listening?
Try this exercise.
Think of a time when you were in conversation with someone – maybe in a meeting, on a call, having a 1:1 chat over a coffee. How well do you think you were listened to by the other person? Give them a score out of 10, where 1 is ‘I thought they weren’t really listening to me.’ and 10 is ‘I thought this person was genuinely interested in what I had to say; they actually listened.’ Consider how you felt before and after the conversation.
If you score them 5 or less, they probably did several of the following:
- Kept looking at their phone (we’re starting with the obvious ones – obviously)
- Played with their pen, fiddled with keys, drummed the table
- Interrupted you several times
- Raised their voice, whether in anger or to talk over you
- Sighed loudly and rolled their eyes in response to your suggestions
- Responded to what you said with “Yeah but what I think…”
- Asked you mostly closed questions (to which you could only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’)
- Used aggressive body language, e.g. glaring or repeatedly pointing at you
- Used disinterested body language, e.g., arms folded and looking away
- Ended the discussion by having the last word
If you scored them 6 or more, they probably did several of these things:
- Maintained a comfortable level of eye contact with you
- Noted down some of your responses
- Had relaxed body language, e.g. hands resting in their lap
- Asked you a variety of questions that really got you thinking – and talking
- Nodded as you were speaking
- Sought your opinions on the subject
- Added vocal encouragement, e.g. “I see…”, “That’s interesting…”
- Explored your ideas and enabled you to see things more clearly
- Referred back to points you’d made earlier in the conversation
- Ended the conversation with a brief recap and checked for mutual understanding
Now that you can identify the behaviours that worked well – and didn’t – you’ll get greater clarity on the importance of listening. How being really listened to prompted you to think and feel.
And maybe, you’ll have some ideas to try out next time you want to really listen to someone.
You may find this post useful: 7 steps to better collaboration