Business leaders I work with often complain that they are so busy running 50+ miles an hour, going from one meeting to the next, having hundreds of conversations a day, and balancing the demands of leading people and managing tasks. Yes, it’s exhausting! Oh, and I almost forgot…Leaders also want lasting, loving, meaningful, and fulfilling relationships with their teams, colleagues, peers, and family. Wow! At the end of day, what we all want is to be happy, loved, appreciated, and heard.
So what keeps us connected? Our ability to listen from the heart; not just the head. Listening to connect is about focusing your attention on the other person without judgement or rejection. It’s one of the conversational essentials for enhancing your Conversational Intelligence®; the hardwired ability to connect, navigate and grow with us as defined by Judith E. Glaser. Listening authentically requires giving your utmost attention. This is a conscious commitment to listening by clearing your head and minimizing distractions. Listening is often a forgotten skill or at least one we all assume to do effectively. We often confuse hearing with listening. Hearing (passive listening) is the physiological (and unconscious) process whereby our ears take in the sound waves of our words and transmit them to parts of our brain. Active listening requires making a conscious effort to pay attention, to notice, and observe — not just the thoughts, but also the feelings.
While most of us are born with the capacity to hear, many of us are not taught how to practice actively listening to connect. I remember my mom teaching me to speak nicely, always emphasizing manners and addressing others with “May I,” “Please” and “Thank you.” I can still hear her say, “Watch your words. It’s not what you say, but how you say it,” or “Watch your tone when you’re speaking.” I don’t remember her saying, “Here is how you connect and actively listen so the other person feels validated and heard.” It’s not that she didn’t want to teach me. She just didn’t know how to teach the skill of actively listening to connect.
It’s a skill we sometimes take for granted and don’t practice consciously and consistently. It takes a commitment to practice the following steps:
- Prepare to listen. Stop what you are doing. Face the other person for direct eye contact. Move away from your computer and shut down your phone and email. Do whatever you need to be fully present to the other person.
- Focus on them Not You – Get out of your head and into your heart if you truly want to connect. Focus your attention on the speaker. Stay open to explore their world; their perceptions. Be curious.
- Paraphrase what the other person said in your own words to check for understanding — that’s listening for the thought.
- Focus on the speaker’s emotion and express empathy — that’s listening for the feeling.
- Summarize the key points of the conversation especially if agreements were made or next steps identified.
Many of my coaching clients struggle with these steps because we are creatures of habit, always in our own heads, and not present to the other person. Commit to connect with active listening. Watch how rich your conversations become. Notice how instantly you are able to build rapport, how alive your connections with others become, and how connected you begin to feel with them!