Are you listening to me? We’ve all asked that question at some point. And it’s usually said in times of frustration and irritation, when we feel we are being ignored and that life is handing us a tough deal.
At Untapped we are in no doubt that our Personal Accelerators are acute listeners, adept at sifting through the everyday chatter to liberate the real issues that need closer attention. It’s not until you can really understand what a person is trying to express that something positive can be done about it.
It’s not unusual to earn the accolade of being a ‘good listener’. Perhaps you know a special someone who you turn to in your time of need, someone who nods in the right places, Hmmms in sympathy and offers perceptive advice. But to take listening to another level requires an expert approach, something far more practised than the passive process of simply being quiet and making eye contact. In fact, studies show that while we are listening we are often distracted or forgetful 75% of that time, and afterwards we tend to recall only half of what was said.
Irvin D. Yalom, an existential psychiatrist, who has written a number of books around therapy, talks about the therapist ‘growing rabbit ears’. By this he means to focus intently on what is going on in the here-and-now, tuning into the rich data a client consciously and subconsciously gives you through physical behaviour, language and attitude.
At Untapped, we also understand that many people haven’t had the experience of someone really listening to them. One of my clients once told me, ‘Because I felt no one was interested in what I had to say, that it wasn’t important, I gave up trying to communicate my feelings. But because I was so unfulfilled deep down, my emotional norm was anger. I was angry all the time.’ He confided this to me after many weeks of uncomfortable and stilted conversation. It took time and a leap of faith for him to trust that I was carefully listening to what he had to say so that, eventually, he could be more frank about his feelings.
Recently I downloaded Fearne Cotton’s podcast, Happy Place. One of her guests, Radio Four’s Desert Island Discs presenter, Kirsty Young talked about the many conversations she has had over the years with the eminent elite. ‘Listening is underrated,’ she confided. ‘The best interviews I’ve done are where I have really listened to someone’s answer and picked up on it. You acknowledge their point of view and you let them know that you heard them. When I was starting out, the best single advice I was given is to really listen to what people are saying and tune into the language they use.’
lt's like having an antenna, one that is super sensitive to a person’s emotional make-up. But even if you do have the skills to garner crucial information, it’s important to consider how you can actively develop this process to dig into the nuances of what’s being said and explore possibilities further.
So, for those who might want to hone their listening skills when you next give someone your full attention, here are a few pointers to consider...
*Take time to pause - don’t be afraid of the silence -to think about what is really being said
*Ask questions to gently push for more depth
*Interact – but do not interrupt – to encourage more explanation
*Empathise and avoid being judgemental or directive
*Listen carefully to the language being used to capture the thread of what’s going on. For example someone may say they are ‘anxious’ rather than ‘concerned’ about something. That is a very different emotion
*Try not to be distracted by rehearsing your response in your head – you could be missing the important details actually being told to you
*Explore the nuances of the subject being discussed to encourage a different way of thinking and to consider other options
*Remember to follow up the conversation. Post chat, after a period of reflection, new topics can reveal themselves
As my late mother-in-law - who was a wonderful and empathetic listener - used to say, ‘remember you have two ears, one mouth’. And if I ever told her anything confidential she’d draw a line across her lips with her fingers to indicate she was zipping it closed. It might not be the behaviour of the boardroom but she was a wise and trustworthy soul, and it served her well for 89 years.
So listen carefully and consciously. It’s a rare talent.
Written by Jenny Tucker