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How to develop your listening skills

I’m sure you know how to use your ears (if you don’t have a disability in this area, of course): you can hear sound, music, etc. This is a perception, one of your senses.

I make a difference with listening. Listening is more intentional: you deliberately turn your attention to the others and focus on what they say.

Several ways of listening

Here, again, are several levels of listening… and several theories (Steven R. Covey, Otto Scharmer, Henry and Karen Kimsey-House).

To recap, your level of listening varies depending on the people you interact with as well as your inner state (fatigue, willingness to connect, ability to empathize with others).

First listening stage: connected but to yourself

After the “hearing “state, you have a first listening level when you focus on what the other person is saying but you do not pay real attention to what she or he says. This is the time when you are listening and connected to yourself.

What usually occurs in this state is that:

  • You start judging what the other says, based on your own beliefs.
  • You are focused on answering, so you lose your ability to really listen to the entire message.

Second listening stage: you connect to what is said, without any judgment

You are able to focus on the other as you manage to set aside your own judgment and distractions. You are able to ask genuine and open questions and truly listen the answers in a way that create a safe space for the person you are with.

This is where a coach is in a coaching session for example.

Third listening stage: you connect to each other

There is a more advanced level where the connection is even higher. It is when the listener is not only able to create a non-judgmental space, but also shows empathy and mirrors the other’s feelings, to walk into his shoes.

This is where great leaders are expected.

It requires they have developed some skills on their personal development journey and know how to manage their energy level in an appropriate way.

How to move from a level to another?

1. Get rid of your own judgment.

It requires some practice as it means you can put your thoughts apart, for the sake of the discussion and the collaboration.

Judging others is a normal process. It is part of our survival mode. However, if you judge someone, it triggers the other one’s survival mode too, with potential stress response: fight, flight or freeze. Which is not efficient when you want to create a connection and generate new ideas, solutions or find opportunities.

One way to do this is to journal your thoughts prior to the discussion. To create awareness about your own judgment and beliefs and step back: is it useful?

When you are more able to identify your own thoughts and feelings “on the spot”, you can try to hijack them by noticing and using stopping techniques like counting backward 5- 6-3- 2-1 (Mel Robbins’ 5 second rule)

2. Increase your curiosity

You can also train yourself to ask open questions. Triggering curiosity is a great way to connect and get rid of judgment. Open questions start with “how”, “what”, “when”, “who”. You can also use the “why”, but it can be interpreted as asking for a justification and put the person on their defensive line. Use the later with caution.

3. Develop your emotional knowledge

I’ve covered it here and it is also true to generate more empathy: learning about feelings, their vocabulary and their sensation is key.

Thanks to empathy, you are able to create more understanding about the other person, as you mirror the feelings.

This is the greatest level of connection, and probably the one that can drain you the most if you are an introvert. So be also mindful to rest appropriately after such discussion.

Also, we don’t have to be in the third stage all the time. It’s OK to use the 3 of them. What really matters is the intention you put in, depending on the results you expect.

Now, for your own reflection:

  • Which listening mode are you mostly using?
  • What would you like to try to take it to the next level?
  • How will you benefit from it?

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