“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
~ Stephen R Covey
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who was so completely present with you in that moment that it was almost slightly unnerving? When someone truly gives you their full attention and focus it can feel like only the two of you exist and everything else shrinks into the background. If you experience this, the person you’re talking to is a great listener.
I’ll be honest, I don’t often experience this. The fast paced, tech savvy world we live in means that many conversations take place with only half focus and attention being divided by many different things. My personal goal is to change this for myself and work on becoming a great listener.
The key thing I have noticed is that I listen with the intention of replying and I constantly come from my own frame of reference. This is something I am trying to change. I have a constant dialogue going on in my mind whilst the other person is speaking that I would like to quieten allowing me to truly focus on what the other person is saying.
We can split listening into 3 levels:
- Conversational listening
- Active listening
- Super aware listening
Conversational listening is what most of us do in everyday life when we are chatting with our friends. Although we listen to what the other person is saying, we usually focus on what it means to us. We are making judgement’s, forming opinions and often thinking about a solution. It is listening from our own perspective rather than the person who is talking.
Much has been written about active listening where we are listening to understand the other person, we show we are listening through acknowledgement and encouragement and then summarizing what they have said and reflect it back to them. This type of listening is more focused on the person doing the talking than conversational listening.
I would like to progress to the third level of listening. A level where there is acute focus on the other person. A level where we let go of all judgement and opinion and are completely attentive to the person talking.
How can we move to this super aware level of listening?
1) Let go of judgement and opinion
When we listen to someone else talk, we are constantly forming judgements and opinions about them and what they are saying. It is very difficult to stop this from happening, but what we we can work on is acknowledging to ourselves that we have formed a judgement and then immediately let it go. As soon as that opinion pops into our head, notice it and then move on from it and get back to purely listening to the other person. It’s quite tricky to master and is similar to the concept of mindfulness.
2) Listen with fascination
A good tip to take listening to the next level is to start the conversation with the belief that everything the person we are talking to will say, will be completely fascinating and interesting. If we go into a conversation with this mindset, it can support us to listen with super awareness.
3) Notice more than their words
Sometimes what people say and how they say it aren’t aligned. Pay attention to their body language, their expression, their emotion and their tone. It is often possible to understand a lot more about what someone is saying from how they say it, rather than what they are saying. If we are really acutely listening to them, we will pick all this additional information up.
4) Let go of a personal agenda
Make the conversation about them, not about us. When talking to someone it is most common that we are focusing on what the words they are saying mean to us. We use our own frame of reference and understand things from our own point of view. If we ask questions, it can usually be to ask about what we are interested about and we shape the conversation in a way that is meaningful for us. Super aware listening is the ability to listen just at what they are saying and asking questions to encourage them to say more without leading them down a particular path.
5) Quieten our internal dialogue
If we focus intently on what someone is saying, we let go of any judgement and we listen with fascination, it should reduce our internal dialogue. If we notice that we are listening and thinking about the next question to ask, or even what we will make for dinner, notice it and let it go and move back to listening with full focus. Constantly formulating the next question I’ve heard referred to as ‘listening whilst loading your gun’. This automatically takes attention away from the listening. Being able to stop thinking about the next question and instead just focusing on what the other person is saying can take the conversation to a whole new level.
I’d love to hear how easy you find listening, whether you have managed to practice super aware listening and how you did that. Let me know in the comments below.