(Active) Listening vs. (Casual) Hearing
Have you ever talked to someone who nods his or her head in agreement with what you have said, but they really weren’t listening? They are not connecting with you, but instead are thinking of other things as their mind wanders away from the conversation. They are hearing you, but not listening.
To give someone your undivided attention means focusing on what is being said, and then only making brief remarks of affirmation. When you do this, the speaker will realize that he or she is being heard. Most often this happens through your body language, demonstrating that the listener is tuned in to what the speaker is saying. This is known as active listening, which includes not only hearing what is said, but paying close attention to what is being communicated through the person’s tone of voice and expressed emotions.
Undivided attention shows your engagement with the person that is speaking, not merely listening to the facts. This is not just casual listening, in which individuals tune in for facts and information that they can relate to; rather, undivided attention has an emphasis and focus on the speaker. In the practice (and it does take much practice) of active listening, the active listener is completely in tune with what the other person is communicating.
There is a distinct contrast between active listening and casual hearing. When a person is casually tuning in, it seems like the speaker’s words are not being given careful consideration. The casual listener is more worried about what he or she will say next or how the conversation should go. On the other hand, an active listener gives the speaker his or her undivided attention, and is not centered around their own agenda. An active listener focuses fully on what the other person is saying. As the listener tunes in through active listening, the speaker is able to open up and share more sincerely and personally.
This involves a higher level of focus and concentration. For example, a Life Coach tunes in attentively to the client, and will be aware of the attitudes and emotions that are evident behind the words. This could also be called “hearing between the lines,” the ability to discern what is really being communicated, such as dreams for the future, dissatisfactions, or a self-sabotaging action that stymies progress. This is the sort of listening that asks, “What is the truth behind the words that I am hearing?” It is the kind of listening that is aware of changes of voice pitch that may not be consistent with the customer’s verbal and nonverbal expressions. This is listening that seeks to know about the client’s true motivation, which frequently includes getting to what he or she has at the top of their priority list.
As a Life Coach, it is critical that I hear not only what is being said, but also what is inferred. The acronym below highlights the keys to hearing what is communicated.
H – hopes and dreams about how things could be better
E – energies and passions that appear to inspire the person, but also the energy drainers that pull the person down
A – attitudes and abilities that impact how a person sees his or her potential for the future
R – routines, habits, and ways of doing things that might need to be changed
Obstacles to Listening
The illustration to the right indicates that many so-called listeners are not really paying attention to the speaker. An active listener is a person who engages with the speaker through his hearing, seeing, and speaking (after he or she has fully listened). Here are some of the common obstacles to listening:
• The so-called listener isn’t giving careful consideration to what is being said, but is thinking about how to solve your problem.
• Thinking about your own issues or how your own task(s) can be completed.
• Distractions. This often happens when you let your mind drift off to the “land of imaginations.”
• Biased listening. The listener is judging what is being said, based on his or her own experiences.
• Interruptions. While engaged in listening, you make it a higher priority to answer your phone or respond to a text message or email.
The Power of Listening
As a Life Coach, I have learned that the most important element in establishing a relationship is based upon how well I listen. If I try to control the conversation through my own perspectives, I will not help my clients move forward or make progress. To be a powerful listener means letting go of control and allowing the client to express themselves freely and without advice or judgment.
The coauthors of Co-Active Coaching say it best:
Everything in coaching depends on listening – especially listening with the client’s agenda in mind …. To be listened to is a striking experience – partly because it is so rare. When another person is totally with you, interested in every word, eager to empathize, you feel known and understood. People get bigger when they know they’re being listened to. They feel safer and more secure, as well, and can begin to trust. It is why listening is so important to coaching.
The key to being a good listener, whether as a Life Coach, or in your everyday life, is to create an atmosphere where the people can develop relationships where they will be able to speak freely. Not judged, compared, disregarded, or disrespected for their thoughts and/or feelings. There is power in listening, but it doesn’t come from being in control or manipulating the direction of the conversation. Listening is an art, and like any other field of art, it takes practice to get better at it. So, start today by paying attention to the person who you are spending valuable time with, and note how your relationship will grow or go to a different level.
Listen effectively and you will receive unexpected rewards.