In a world where technology is speeding up how quickly we can access a plethora of information and mental stimulation, attention spans have greater and greater opportunity to run rampant with distraction. When it comes to relationships, this looks like talking with someone who is more interested in their phone then the conversation they are having with you. Sound irritating? Of course, it isn't limited to others, ever had an important conversation go awry because you got distracted with the conversation you were having in your own head?
Ineffective listening or outright not listening has big impacts when it comes to your communication, relationship building skills and influence:
- It breaks rapport - can you tell when someone isn’t really listening to you? Do you like them for it?
- It reduces comprehension - ever tried to follow and understand a conversation with someone else while also having a conversation inside your own head?
- Makes your communication less influential – If you are wondering “what do I say next?” it’s a poignant indicator that you haven’t been listening.
- Makes your personal brand less influential – the experience people have as they leave an interaction with you is your personal brand. Poor listening skills tend to encourage others to have a poor experience with you which in turn degrades the influence you have with them.
Making improving your listening skills more than ever before a unique opportunity to stand apart from a distracted crowd and distinguish yourself as a high-level communicator. Listening skills are underrated. It’s a skill you are literally using all of the time.
When it comes to relating with others, effective listening skills lead to:
- Relationship and rapport – ever been in the presence of someone who wasn’t just waiting for their turn to speak, but were truly listening to you with undivided attention?
- Effective communication – great questions arise naturally from great listening. Not only is it significantly easier to understand and get to the heart of things when you have been listening, but communication also flows easily and naturally.
- An influential personal brand – imagine when people left interactions with you, they thought to themselves, wow nobody listens to me like that person, and conversation is so easy with them. Would that increase your influence and likability with others? You bet.
So before I reveal how to boost your Active Listening Skills, how good a listener are you?
There are four levels of listening – where do you most hang out?
1. Download Listening –
Ever put a kid in front of their favorite TV show and tried to get their attention? Their eyes are glued to the TV, their mouths are open, they look like zombies and can’t hear a word you are saying? This is the epitome of download listening. Download listening essentially means you aren't listening at all to the other person; your attention is 100% on something else. It could be the TV; it could simply be your own thoughts, concerns, worries, work, etc. If you find yourself finishing the conversation and not remembering or knowing what you talked about – you were download listening. This type of listening has the greatest negative impact on rapport, your ability to comprehend the conversation and communicate effectively. If you are hanging out here – it's far better for the health of your relationships to simply not have the conversation, and park it for another time or even indefinitely.
2. Factual Listening –
Factual listening is one level above download listening in its effectiveness. If you are factual listening, you aren’t quite the distracted zombie as with download listening, but your attention is still mostly with you. Factual listening is paying attention to any facts that pertain to you, and ignoring the rest. If a snippet of the conversation is relevant to your interests, you will zone in, but for the most part, you are zoned out. Factual Listening is best used for dialogue that you aren't directly apart of but need to keep an ear open. For example, you may want to factually listen to the news or at the Airport waiting for a plane.
3. Empathetic Listening –
Empathetic listening is where effective listening begins. Empathetic listening is where you are no longer listening "for you" but now listening "for them." In Empathetic listening, you care. You care about the interaction and about the other, and they have your attention. Not only are you listening to what's important to you, but also what's important to them. Further, you putting yourself in their shoes as you listen, truly seeking to understand not just objectively what they are saying, but subjectively how they think and feel about it. Empathetic Listening engenders rapport, easy and effective communication, and builds the credibility and influence of your personal brand.
4. Sacred Listening –
The ultimate form of listening. To understand Sacred Listening, imagine having a conversation with the most important person in the world to you. Imagine being able to have one conversation with anyone you choose from the history of the human race. Or imagine having the last conversation with someone you love who is on their deathbed. Would you be distracted? Wondering about lunch? No. Sacred listening is treating the very conversation as a sacred. It’s undivided 100% attention without a stray thought about anything else.
It’s full engagement heart, body, mind with the interaction, without any investment in how you are seen, how you look or how you are being received because you are 100% here for them, not for you. If you don’t care about the content of the conversation, care about the person in the conversation, and listen to the person, rather than trying to care about the detail of the content. Sacred Listening is the holy grail of Listening and will have the most beneficial impact on your rapport, communication, and personal brand.
Upgrading your Listening
And here is the beauty of these levels of listening. You decide at any time which one you are employing. Want to know how?
Here is the simple secret of improving your Active Listening skills and reaching those higher levels of listening: Turn up the value/care you have for the interaction.
If you look carefully at what each of the levels has in common – it's levels of care. At download listening the level of care is 100% for you and your interests, 0% of them. At Sacred Listening it's 100% for them, 0% for you.
If you want to improve your listening skills yes it will involve some practice – if you hang out in download and factual all of the time you will build habits in that domain. So the more you employ Empathetic and Sacred Listening, the easier it will be to do those naturally. But more than anything else, habit or not, turn up how much you care about the interaction, and you will be on the right path.
Sounds easy right?
It is, but is it common? Absolutely not. Go test it out and give yourself a leading edge advantage in your communication skills and relationships.