Deep Listening: How Can it Make 
a Difference for You?
from Ivy Sea Online

Common understanding decrees that hearing and listening are two different activities and abilities. Hearing requires functioning ears. Listening, on the other hand, requires comprehension, minimal distraction and a release from your opinions while the other person(s) is speaking. And then thereís deep listening.

Deep listening can take many forms. When speaking with someone who is listening deeply, you may feel as if you are the only person in the world. The listener gives you the impression that she is completely rapt by your words and thoughts. The experience of deep listening seems kind, understanding and meaningful. Deep listening engenders a powerful interaction, a stronger relationship and mutual understanding that helps decrease friction and conflict.

What makes deep listening different?

Like most methods of human interaction, to listen deeply requires ongoing training ó for the tactical skills that help you listen deeply and the personal mastery needed to know your true intentions. And while it can seem like hard work, the rewards can be great.

Unfortunately, whether consciously or not, some individuals learn the "easy stuff" and forego the actual "behind the words" work required of actual listening. The result of these approaches leads to an overuse of "listening phrases" that are divorced from the intention and action required of true listening. Hereís an example that youíve probably experienced:

A conversation participant uses the phrase, "So, what I hear you saying is Ö" to begin most of her sentences. She says it quickly, repeats your comment, and then launches into her opinion. Thereís neither a bridge between your comment and her's, nor any pause, acknowledgement or eye contact. The result? No one feels she's hearing anything but the clock ticking while she waits to speak again.

Sure, the person in this example is saying the words that deep listeners might use. And yet, while this person seems to be making an attempt to listen more effectively, using rote technical phrases can cause more damage than not using them at all. How would you feel if you were on the receiving end of the example above? Do you think that the speaker in this example demonstrates interest in the other personís perspective, or is truly listening to what others were saying or feeling?

You know deep listening when you see it in action. The listener, through her actions, makes clear that she's asking about and listening to the perspectives of others. She doesn't spend 100-percent of the meeting talking; she might ask as many questions as she makes statements; she may or may not take notes while others speak; she notices that some people 'say' things through their body language without verbally saying anything at all; and she can summarize the conversation afterwards, or if another person loses track of his thought. Deep listening can be as fun to watch as it is to experience personally, and is a very significant skill in which to build competence. Why?

The benefits of deep listening

The results of deep listening can manifest in tangible ways, such as an improved bottom line due to clear communication, and in abstract ways, such as a more fulfilling work experience and higher degrees of understanding. Through deep listening you gain:

  • Greater understanding of another personís perspective, broadening your own perspective;
  • Stronger relationships with others, including business partners, ensuring ongoing collaboration, for example;
  • Ability to make a positive impression and a meaningful difference in someoneís day;
  • Congruency with your intentions, increasing your authenticity in a respectful, effective manner;
  • Enhanced influence and personal mastery as perceived by yourself and others; and
  • Highly effective interactions.

What's more, the deep listener picks up clues and makes observations that allow her to contribute truly pertinent ideas or create more effective strategies, because she notices things that others miss.

The drawbacks of saying, but not doing

Like many shortcuts, looking for an easy way to the finish line of deep listening will get you lost. (In fact, there is no finish line. Deep listening is an ongoing life lesson.) When it comes to deep listening, if you say the right words, but donít back up those words with action, you could end up with these results:

  • Lower credibility with colleagues;
  • Eroded levels of trust;
  • Becoming the butt of jokes (mocking your inappropriate use of  these phrases, for example);
  • Less of a leadership image; and
  • Fewer opportunities to learn from others.

Tips to begin listening more deeply:

Focus on the conversation ó Mentally, donít allow extraneous chatter or activity distract you from the conversation. Physically, make regular eye contact. Likewise, keep your mind free of other issues, your to-do list, etc. If youíre going to spend the time and energy having a conversation, make it worthwhile for everyone. And, for Heaven's sake, don't take telephone calls while you're having a conversation with someone, unless you've noted in advance that you're expecting a call you must take.

Respond and acknowledge through body language ó When youíre listening, youíre using your ears, not your mouth. You also listen with your body language, such as leaning in toward the speaker and nodding your head allow you to "speak" and listen at the same time. Many people do this naturally when they're truly engaged in what another person is saying. Similarly, when we're not paying attention, our body language says as much. Body cues are a clear way for someone to read your interest in what he or she is saying as well as your understanding of whatís being said.

Know your intentions óBe explicit about why you are in conversation. Deep listening predominantly occurs when you are genuinely open to and interested in learning another personís perspective. If your intention does not fall into this realm, you are not listening deeply.

Ask questions ó The simple act of asking, rather than stating, places you in an other-focused mindset. Asking questions is itself a form of listening, allows us to learn more about the person or subject, and alerts our brains that more information will arrive ó keeping us open to receive new ideas and perspectives.

Unclutter your mind ó Today, the most overused excuse for poor behavior is "I'm too busy." That may be conveniently easy to say, but the truth is that each of us has the choice over what we do and say every day. If our schedules and minds are cluttered, it's a dilemma of our own making. Fortunately, just as we have the power to put ourselves in such a situation, we have the power to destress and declutter. There are many resources available to help us take responsibility for our choices and, in doing so, forego those things that are of no real importance in favor of the things that are truly priceless to us. The result? A much less cluttered mind, and a much more satisfying day. You'll find related links at Ivy Sea Online.

This information provides food for thought rather than counsel specifically designed to meet the needs of your organization. Please use it mindfully. The most effective interpersonal or organizational communication plan should be tailored to your unique needs, so don't hesitate to get assistance from an expert.

This article was originally featured at Ivy Sea Online and is reprinted with permission. Ivy Sea Online is an outstanding source of insightful and inspiring articles on leadership and communications - "visionary resources for mindful business." (ed.)

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