Listening effectively to others can be your most fundamental and powerful communication tool. When someone is willing to stop talking or thinking and truly listen to others, all interactions become easier. Listening well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk swell.
Depth of Listening
How can you improve your listening? First, by admitting even the slightest possibility that you might not always listen with absolute effectiveness. So there is some room for improvement, however small. Always commit to improving. There are different depths of listening, based on how deeply you are listening to the other person. If you can identify these, then you can choose which you want to use. They are:
False listening occurs where a person is pretending to listen but is not hearing anything that is being said. They may nod, smile and grunt in all the right places, but do not actually take in anything that is said. This is a skill that may be finely honed by people who do a lot of inconsequential listening, such as politicians and royalty. Their goal with their audience is to make a good impression in very short space of time before they move on, never to talk to that person again. It is also something practised by couples, particularly, where one side does most of the talking. However, the need for relationship here can lead to this being spotted (‘you’re not listening again!’) and consequent conflict.
Sometimes when we listen we hear the first few words and then start to think about what we want to say in return. We then look for a point at which we can interrupt. We are also not listening then as we are spending more time rehearsing what we are going to say about their initial point.
Selective listening involves listening for particular things and ignoring others. We thus hear what we want to hear and pay little attention to ‘extraneous’ detail.
Partial listening is what most of us do most of the time. We listen to the other person with the best of intent and then become distracted, either by stray thoughts or by something that the other person has said. This can be problematic when the other person has moved on and we are unable to pick up the threads of what is being said. We thus easily can fall into false listening, at least for a short while. This can be embarrassing, of course, if they suddenly ask your opinion. A tip here: own up, admitting that you had lost the thread of the conversation and asking them to repeat what was said.
Full listening happens where the listener pays close and careful attention to what is being said, seeking carefully to understand the full content that the speaker is seeking to put across. This may be a very active form of listening, with pauses for summaries and testing that understanding is complete. By the end of the conversation, the listener and the speaker will probably agree that the listener has fully understood what was said. Full listening takes much more effort than partial listening, as it requires close concentration, possibly for a protracted period. It also requires skills of understanding and summary.
Beyond the intensity of full listening, you can also reach into a form of listening that not only hears what is said but also seeks to understand the whole person behind the words. In deep listening, you listen between the lines of what is said, hearing the emotion, watching the body language, detecting needs and goals, identifying preferences and biases, perceiving beliefs and values, and so on. To listen deeply, you need a strong understanding of human psychology and to pay attention not just to the words but the whole person. Deep listening is actually known as ‘Whole person’ listening.
How to Listen in Persuasive Situations
As a speaker, you spend a lot of time thinking about the listener. But, how much time do you spend thinking about listening? How good a listener are you?
What is “Persuasive Listening”?
It is easy to assume that when you go to listen to a persuasive speech, you have already accepted that you are going to be persuaded. The speaker will try to persuade you. And you will listen to whatever he or she has to say. You are not going to argue or supplement. However, persuasive listeners are the kinds of persons who would naturally and routinely listen. This calls for altruistic love, an inner care for others, a curiosity about others and putting others above themselves. Here is a great drill for becoming a persuasive listener:
Pay attention to others Be connected to yourself—your feelings and thoughts about others When you are serious about listening to someone, first be sure you turn to them and look at them. And look into the windows of their soul – their eyes. Remembering (and working) to look a speaker in the eyes requires you to focus your attention on the speaker.
Next is that little voice in your head that can take you to where the speaker is heading or it can take you in a thousand divergent directions. Do not quash the little voice, the thoughts in your head, but focus them as you have focused your gaze – on the speaker. Get that little voice to work towards effective listening. Use it to remember your questions and organize the speaker’s words for you. Listening is persuasive when it:
- makes the other person feel respected and understood
- helps the listener understand the feelings and perceptions of the other party
- enables the listener to ask better questions
- enables the listener to understand how to relate to the other party