Are you wasting 75% of your potential?

leadership Mar 14, 2022
Some of us waste 75% of our listening potential

How good a listener are you? We all like to think we are good - but the truth is most of us achieve only 25% of our listening potential.

That's because we're too busy, too distracted and too focused on what we're going to say when the speaker stops talking.

Since listening is rated the Number One skill for communicators, most of us need to up our game.

We need to work on our listening technique. We need to put our listening skills on steroids. We need to practice 'active listening'.

Active listening is hard work. It's much more than the physical process of hearing.

We need to be listening for 3 things:

  1. Content. What the words are saying?
  2. Intent. What does the listener mean? What’s the sub-text?
  3. Emotion. What emotions are at play?

We also need to be watching: are the words we're hearing at odds with the body language of the speaker?

So how do we fix this? 

  • First, take care of the obvious stuff. Make time for the conversation, face to face, in a space where you won’t be interrupted. 
  • Switch off your phone. Take it off the desk.
  • Get comfortable with silence. Don't rush to fill holes in conversations. We're often intimidated by silence. Let silences hang.
  • Postpone evaluation. Generally our brains are whirring - anticipating where the conversation is going, judging what we're hearing, matching it to our own experiences,  prepping a response.  Don't formulate a response until the speaker has communicated the whole message.

Once you get comfortable with active listening, you might want to progress to another level - 'deep listening'.

This can really help with those difficult conversations that we all have from time to time. It may be a chat with someone who is passionate about a topic and you think they are wrong. 

Without a strategy, the conversation can go horribly wrong - and both sides end up feeling hurt and unheard.

This is where deep listening comes in. The idea is that at the end of the conversation the speaker feels valued, accepted and more connected - regardless of whether or not the listener agreed.

A BBC article examined some current thinking on deep listening techniques. They concluded: "Deep listening can enable the speaker to feel safer, less defensive and therefore more open to seeing both sides of an argument."

Here's how the BBC summarized the key points of the technique:

  1. Ask your speaker to explain their perspective and why they feel so strongly. Listen, without interruption, putting aside judgements, counter-arguments and solutions
  2. Summarise the core of what you have heard and check you have understood correctly, including the emotions and texture of their story. This does not mean you have to agree
  3. Ask whether they agree with your summary. If not, ask them to explain more
  4. Continue with this process till the speaker gives a resounding "Yes." They should at this point be likely to listen to your side of the story

No matter how deep you need to go, we should all be reviewing our listening skills. If most of us are down at 25% of our potential in the Number One communication skills we're in big trouble.