by Rose Murdock – “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” Anyone who knows Steven Covey’s work will recognise this as one of his best pieces of advice.
We all know that listening builds empathy and empathy builds great relationships which are the cornerstone of any business, especially in the world of sameness we inhabit these days. But have you ever thought about how listening can be a fantastic ally in helping to build self-confidence, even as it helps you build relationships?
It’s difficult to think about your own insecurities while your attention is fully engaged on another. Concentrating on the other person’s point of view can take you right out of yourself, enabling you to stop worrying about the impression you’re making. In the process, you’re becoming increasingly empathetic… and empathy builds trust builds understanding builds better communication builds relationships builds great teams… etc. You know all this already so we won’t labour it.
If you’re lacking in self-confidence, you’re likely to shy away from social situations because all you’re thinking about is how awkward they’re going to be for you. But what if you could climb out of your own head and into someone else’s? Listening lets you do that.
People don’t remember what you said, they remember how you made them feel.
We’ve all been in group situations where no one listens to anyone else, they all just wait to jump in with their opinions, advice and solutions because they believe their own views and experiences are the most interesting. Truly listening is a conscious decision to understand what others are trying to share with you. It involves patiently giving them time to explore what’s on their minds.
One of the most effective relationship-building behaviours is the wisdom that people don’t remember what you said, they remember how you made them feel. The highest compliment you can pay anyone – the most memorable behaviour – is to listen actively to them.
We can cultivate great listening skills if we’re aware of all the things that prevent us from listening actively:
- Listening to more than one conversation at a time; this is worse if one of those conversations is happening on your phone rather than at the next table! Practice being fully engaged.
- Paying attention to the way the other person looks rather than what they are saying. And if you don’t like person you’re with, listening becomes even more difficult. Try to suspend judgement.
- Being disinterested in the topic of discussion. When this happens we get bored and tune out when we should be looking for what is interesting about it.
- Bringing your preconceived ideas to the discussion and disengaging when the other person’s views contradict your opinions. Think how much more we’d all learn if we kept an open mind.
- Preoccupation with something else while pretending to listen. We tend to have a lot on our minds and so we end up not giving our full attention to others when we need to. Think of being with someone else as having a little holiday from your own preoccupations and give over.
- Not being present in the moment. This is quite a skill that takes practice and rewards with a healthier mental state.
Active listening means listening with full attention to not just the words, but to the sounds and signals of the other person:
- Tone of voice
- Verbal aspects – i.e. pace, volume, breathlessness, flow, emphasis
- Facial expression
- Body language
- Cultural and ethnic signals and gestures
How another person is feeling will show in their body movement and signals, so that even if you couldn’t hear them you’d be able to spot emotions like anger, joy and excitement. It enables subtle feedback in the form of body language signals such as leaning forward, nodding and making eye contact. And when you’re actively involved, it is easier to check your interpretation and understanding of what you’re listening to by waiting for a gap and then indicating that you would like to ask a question or need clarity on a specific point.
Listening – not just hearing – diffuses difficult situations; you know how often you calm down when someone listens to your concerns. People want to know you care; they want to feel important. Actively listening to them affirms their sense of self and does exactly the same for you as it builds your own confidence.
As ever, we’d love to hear from you. Rest assured that if you share your comments with us, we will listen actively!