What is Listening?

Posted on March 22, 2021


Listening
I’ve had a few different conversations recently about listening: What the point of listening is and how we do (or don’t!) Listen!
As a daughter, sister, partner, friend, teacher and leader I have said ‘you are not listening to me!’ or ‘are you listening to me? ‘many times. Often with growing frustration. I’ve had it said to me from my brother, parents, partner, friends, a child, staff line manager and member of staff. There have also been times when I simply haven’t spoken up as I was sure the audience wouldn’t listen to me.
What I have come to realise, through my experience and through pulling together different strands of training over the years, is that there are many different types of listening, and may different ways to respond to someone when you have listened to them. I’m also really interested when people talk about ‘the listening ear’ and ‘active listening’- again there are quite a few facets to both of these descriptors.
What I do know is that when I am participating in a discussion as a coach or as a supervisor I have an intensive focus on me listening effectively and draw on my experience of listening and being listened to.
So here are my thoughts;

Listening to respond

This is where you may end up in a disagreement or misunderstanding if the emotions behind it are powerful and beginning to overwhelm.

However, there is a place for this, as there are times when it is a question or query that is being said.

Listening to understandThis is a big part of coaching and supervision and effective leadership. Yes, you will still be responding, but it is about ensuring that you are truly hearing what is being said to you, through words and through non-verbal cues so that your response is measured, calm and worthwhile
Listening to empathise and/or sympathiseWe have all had those moments when someone just wants to vent, or share something, good or bad. Here what they want is acknowledgement and validation.
Listen to give advice/solutionsThis is mentoring or when you are seen as the expert. Someone wants or needs you to give them a solution, or want you to advise what you would do in their position. Be warned, be sure that this IS what they want, or you may end up with frustration!
Listen to ensure the person has understood you and what you have saidThis became increasingly important for me when launching initiatives or trying to shift culture. I had had a discussion, I thought what I said was clear and obvious, but then I would ask a key question, or ‘check for feedback’ and what they would say was something different, So do this listening at key points so that you are making sure they have really grasped the main points that you wanted them to, and they understand them.
Listening to see who has the biggest voice and who is not engaging or being drowned outI am often fascinated by team dynamics, and will often sit back, watch and listen to a group discussion. Who is leading, who is engaging what listening styles, who is being silent and disengaging, who looks animated and who looks confused? And is there a way to rebalance or check in?
Listening to see who has the same values, ethics and ideals as us and who doesn’t.We often seek allies and gravitate to those that seem similar to ourselves. Particularly in friendships, in employment and we desire it in family. Having that internal debate to decide shall I engage in this discussion in the pub, around coffee stand at the conference, in the staff room can sometimes lead us to decide no, and this is ok!

What I do know is that sometimes listening is an effort, particularly when stressed or tired or desperately trying to get something done to a deadline! I also know it is ok to say ‘I cant listen just now, but lets talk in the morning, in an hour or let me grab a coffee first.’ All listening types require dialogue, and acknowledging that you can’t listen right now is better than half listening!

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