Woman holds her hand near ear and listens carefully isolated on gray wall background

Recently, someone asked me about listening – how to do it well and how to use it as a tool for organizational change. It’s a good question. Most advice on listening relies on methods or techniques.

These methods quickly supplant the goal and are often used with all the warmth and sincerity of a robot. Accurately repeating a technique isn’t the point. 

Creating understanding and forming relationships is the goal. Why? It facilitates learning, enables us to influence, helps us understand motivation and makes people feel heard and dare I say it…improves happiness.

Consider these steps to developing listening habits that are actually effective:

1) Know What You are Listening For

Content – listening for content is how we do most of our listening. We listen this way to acquire information. Here’s the downside:

  • Lots of people want to give you a “background” before they make a point. It is more difficult to organize and prioritize information when there is a lot of it.
  • It is passive and that makes it harder to remember.
  • What is irrelevant is numbing. Our eyes may be open but we are asleep.

Corroboration – This type of listening has an inherent bias because we easily, though not consciously, ignore information that disconfirms what we are already thinking. Known as the confirmation bias, it is a well-studied phenomena.

Colleagueship – Relationships are based, in part, on assumptions, values and preferences. Most job interviews are explorations of the question – “can we get along with sufficient ease?”

Communal bonding – Like corroboration, it seeks homogeneity, but for a different reason. This type of bonding comforts us and can reassure us that we are “right.”

The difficult part of this is, we often enter into a conversation without an objective. We allow our unconscious needs to take over. That is no way to run a railroad.

2) Stop Being so Polite

Allowing someone to disgorge the history of the world isn’t helpful to you, or to them.

Interrupt. I often say to people, “may I interrupt you?” or “I need to interrupt you.” This is followed by something like, “it seems that you think _______” or “I think your point is______.” This is NOT rude! It is helpful.

Ditch the belief that listening until the other person is out of air is your obligation. Click To Tweet

3) Get to the “So What”

It is more helpful to tie a conversation to the reason you are having it, than to let it wander aimlessly. Connect the dots or say that you don’t see how they are connected. Either way, you advance the discussion.

4) Provoke Action

Don’t be a passive vessel.

  • If you don’t see the point, say so.
  • Don’t ignore ranting, unsubstantiated ravings, illogical conclusions, etc.
  • Confront second hand “information.”
  • Tell others if they are combative, illogical, naïve, etc. Use your own experience of their behavior – not what you have heard.

I once told a colleague that she was aggressive. She yelled back at me, “I am not!” I said, “you come into my office, stand very close, lean over me, speak in a loud volume and your face is red…not sure what you would call that, but …” You get the point.

Describe and provide the “so what” and leave it to others to respond. Even when feedback is unflattering, if it is accurate and properly framed, people feel more understood.

Now you’re getting somewhere!

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