Join John Ullmen for an in-depth discussion in this video Becoming a better listener, part of Communication Foundations (2013).
- Where I live in Los Angeles, there's a scenic winding canyon road that goes to the ocean. You have to drive slow, but the view is much better and you get to the beach faster than if you took the highways. It's a great metaphor for listening. Listening is the canyon road of communication, where you go slower, but get there sooner. It's tough when we're pressured to get things done. It feels like we're compromising results. But done well, the slow down actually accelerates influence, relationship building, trust, and credibility.
How can this be? It's because we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions but others evaluate us by our impact. They can't read our hearts and minds. They have to go on what happened to them. After being with us, they determine whether they came out better or not on their terms, not ours. Effective listening is crucial to close the intent-impact gap. To understand our actual impact, and invite genuine buy in, we need to listen with a strong personal motive to learn and understand. But, psychologically, it's trickier than it sounds.
We have a blind spot in our brains that gets in the way. What we hear is filtered through our own needs, biases, experiences, culture, and agenda. Even when we try, we often hear what others say but miss what they mean and when we misunderstand it's easier to blame our listeners than see our need to change because you can't see through a blind spot. So we need a way to listen around our blind spots. To do it, based on my research for my book Real Influence, with Mark Goulston, we outlined four different levels of listening.
The first three levels are the most common, but fall short of what's needed to achieve real understanding and connection. Level one- avoidance listening is listening over people. Listeners who listen over others are the people who say "uh-huh" while clearly showing no interest in what the other person is saying. They look preoccupied and they usually are. Sometimes they don't even stop checking email or texting. You can say "the building's on fire" and "there's life on Mars" and they'll respond "Yep, yeah, good, you do that." Level one listening can annoy, exasperate, or even infuriate the person who's talking.
Level 2- defensive listening, listening at people. This is preparing your counterpoints while the person is still speaking. It's being quick to react and slow to consider. It's paying more attention to the response generating voice in our head than the voice of the other person. We're just waiting for them to stop moving their lips and why are they still doing that anyway? We're ready to talk. Level two listeners are often seen as defensive, self- centered, combative, and over time, people resent them because they're exhausting. Level 3- problem solving listening, this is actually listening to someone.
This is the most common one when we really are trying to listen. It's listening to accomplish things. Problem solving listeners listen to help us move forward. Now, if people want your solutions, this approach can work, but if you presume to offer fixes they don't want or need, people will feel frustrated, misheard and even resentful. Problem solving listeners often have positive intentions to help, to be efficient. It seems like a great option when everyone's busy and over tasked. But when your solutions are disconnected from their desires, it sets you back.
Level 4- connective listening, listening into others. This is listening of the highest order and it's the human listening that all of us crave. It's listening into other people to discover what's going on inside them. It's listening on their terms, not yours. It's committing to understand and establish genuine rapport. So remember, you're listening to learn if you haven't learned, you haven't listened. Ask questions like these, "What does that mean for you? "What do you think about...? "What's your perspective on...?" Here's some other ways to put level four listening into action.
This is so helpful in work and life I really encourage you to find a trusted person to work with on these questions. "When do you find yourself most challenged to use 'Level four listening' and why? "With whom is it most important that you raise your level of listening?" And who has modeled level four listening for you, in your life, and how can you follow their example? Using level four listening isn't always easy but it leads to real insight, connection, and understanding. It leads you closer to the impact you really want. On the canyon road of communication, slow down and pay attention, it's worth it.
You'll enjoy the ride and still get there sooner.
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- Managing the intent-impact gap
- Designing the content of your message
- Improving vocal delivery
- Adjusting your body language
- Being politically savvy
- Listening to what's said, what's unsaid, and how it's said
- Increasing empathy and trust
- Overcoming anxiety<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.