Listening. It sounds easy doesn’t it? Someone’s speaks, a sound is made, and you can’t do much but hear that sound. We may have to strain to hear, we may not be able to do anything but hear, but it is completely under our control whether what we hear goes into our brains and to what extent we compute it. There’s a difference between listening to that inspirational teacher you had at school and that friend you know who just can’t shut up whilst under the influence of alcohol, and without the capacity to select our listening range, we’d either be overcome with information or stuck in attention deficiency.
I’m going to talk about the five types of listening, when to use them, and how to achieve the more useful of them. Full credit goes to the late Steven Covey who wrote about these ideas in the “Seven habits of highly effective people”.
1. IGNORE: The most basic type of listening is to ignore the person or people who are speaking. You can still hear them, but you don’t acknowledge or react to what is being said in any way. Whilst this is usually very rude and something people slip in to, it can be useful if you don’t want to appear to be listening, for whatever reason, or if you’re being bombarded from unsolicited sources (tourists in parts of the Far East, will know what I mean).
2. PRETEND: We’ve all done it. Someone’s talking to you, and you’re so pre-occupied, tired, or just plain bored, all you can do is nod occasionally and grunt a response, his or her words not registering. Asked to explain the conversation, you’d be at a loss. This really isn’t helpful, and people CAN tell, and they will be annoyed and probably offended. Even if a topic or the speaker is not engaging for you, there are still things to be learnt, and you cannot connect effectively with people when you merely pretend to listen. Listening after all is not simply about the accumulation of knowledge but also the key to building strong relationships.
3. SELECTIVE: This is what most of us do the majority of the time, and it’s quite natural to be selective when listening to people you’re even quite close to. If people repeat themselves, or if a speaker beats around the bush, attention is often briefly broken. Selective listening can be useful when you’re dealing with more than one source of auditory information, but again, people will often be able to tell when you’re really listening and when you’re not really there. Selective listening is used most in high pressure environments.
4. ATTENTIVE: This is the sort of listening we can all achieve when something really interests us, or otherwise demands our attention. In attentive mode, listeners will be far less distracted and information will be easier to absorb. People can tell when others are genuinely engaged, and it really is good to be attentive – both in terms of developing a genuine connection and listening in general.
5. EMPATHIC: The holy grail of listening. Listening with empathy – not just listening to the words, but the emotions behind the words; the context, the subtext, and the feeling. For me, this is what communication is all about, and if you can hear the feelings beneath the words, you’ll be in tune with the speaker, and have a sincere connection. This isn’t possible all the time of course, but it is the type of listening we should all aspire to. Great leaders have the ability to “hear between the lines” and this skills gives them the crucial insight that translates into better interpersonal decisions.
If you have time, keep a journal of your listening habits and work out your strengths and weaknesses.
Empathic listeners have more fun!