Learning to Listen with Influence

As a leader, there is a vast array of different skills and strategies that can be implemented to create change and influence behaviour. And let’s face it, in these modern times, battling with current economic pressures; we all have to hold the mantle of being a leader at some point or another.

We all have to set an example of how we can respond proactively in situations that challenge our character and personal well-being. One of the most under-rated and neglected of those responses is listening to others. Not just hearing a certain octave of noise. I mean really listening. 

Looking through the lens of another

Exemplary listening is a skill that needs its utmost respect along with undivided attention in its application. Throwing the question out to a recent group I was working with ‘how good are you at listening to others?’ a majority of the room boasted that these are skills they had finely tuned. However; when challenged on how much information they gathered and more importantly, how much the other person felt understood, they inevitably struggled.

Being understood is the most basic of needs and just being genuinely appreciated can be nourishing and affirming. That’s why those who hire a coach express a wonderful sense of being listened to for the first time in their life. In today’s hectic workplace many people complain of people’s attention being paper thin because they are trapped in the constructs of time; busy schedules, endless meetings, multitasking and not to mention the internal factors such as being disinterested, fatigued, impatient and judgemental.

Seeing beyond our own needs in the workplace is few and far between these days and this neglect of others is fuelled fundamentally by fear. Fear of missing deadlines, being made redundant, missing that big promotion, of being chastised by the boss or manager. All of us to a varying degree are gripped by fear. 

But what if it could be different? What if you could raise the performance levels of those around you by merely being attentive and interested, genuinely interested. Have you not had that glowing feeling rushing through your whole body when you have truly connected with someone and have felt appreciated for just a small moment of time? It sends your self-esteem off the scale…temporarily.

And that is the issue. We get a taste of what it could be like, being looked in the eye and witnessing someone’s genuine curiosity and attention into your welfare and performance. Then you both get wrapped up in your own schedules again and sucked back into the frenetic pace of emails, meetings and that 5.30pm finish.

Information Exchange

Ken Buist (my mentor and author of the book ‘Trust Me’) always has a beautiful way of putting things. He says that basically in all communication there is a ‘transmitter’ and a ‘receiver’. Being an effective leader means, not only do you need exceptional transmitter skills, but more importantly you need to have excellent receiver skills. Or just like my late mother used to tell me when I was a young boy, you were born with two ears and one tongue for a reason!

The role of receiver is obviously listening to what is being said. Just this alone can enable you to learn, gain insight, take advice and potentially be inspired. Fundamentally it illustrates to the other person that what they have got to say is worthwhile. This boosts the other person’s self-esteem and confidence making them more effective in their post conversational tasks.

The range of listening

  • Selective Listener – This kind of listening is sporadic, selfish and most of the time more interested in their own voice, internally and externally. No matter how much the other person has got to say this kind of listener will either interrupt or try to finish the other person’s sentence for them. A complete disregard for what is trying to be communicated.  Also instead of listening to what is being said this kind of listener is always preparing their next response and invariably always getting the last word in. No connection, no rapport, no influence!
  • Clinical Listener - This is the expert surgeon that carefully dissects the words shared and analyses them to death. A lot of the time the exchange can be emotionless and logical, lacking empathy and warmth. Many people who have narcissistic tendencies listen to this degree and are often called ‘linguistic wizards’ as they elegantly twist and turn the conversation around to their own benefit and like an expert hypnotist turn the poor transmitter around to their way of thinking. This kind of listening is often cold and logical and can result in some tense transactions and inevitably to superficial relationships, frustration and resentment.
  • Exemplary Listener – This kind of listening embraces the whole transaction of information, detaching all judgment and ego. The whole of the senses are recognised with the way the other person gesticulates, their tone of voice, the furrowed brow. They literally put themselves in the other person’s shoes. They cast aside all forms of scrutiny and focus on what is being said with patience, calm and consideration.  They give the other person time to think about the exchange and avoid interrupting or finishing sentences. The aim of this kind of listening is depth of understanding for them and the other person. This kind of listening can inspire and influence in many ways because when this kind of listening is applied then the key questions always follow. The transmitter always has the answer within them and boy when they find the answer, especially to a challenging situation, watch them light up! There is no advice in this kind of listening, just learning.

This kind of listening does not come easy and like anything needs to be practiced relentlessly. At first your results will seam meaningless and the process can at times become cumbersome. As with anything in life, if you want it enough you will apply it. With discipline and literally at times biting your own tongue you will see the person in front of you blossom, perform to a level beyond theirs and your own expectations and give you an ROI far exceeding your investment.

Who would ever think that listening could be such a valuable investment?

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