Power of listening to engage with People at work
—Listening is a skill – we can consciously create Mastery—
Article by Andrea Jayatilleka
In the recent past I have started to enjoy and experience listening fully ‘it started as I consciously focused on listening with only one objective: comprehension. I was only trying to understand what the person was trying to convey to me. I wasn’t listening to critique. I wasn’t listening to object. I wasn’t listening to convince. I was listening solely for comprehension.”
In my work of executive coaching with top executives and leaders in some of the top performing companies in Sri Lanka I have observed that, “Corporate leaders’ 360-degree feedback indicates that one out of four of them demonstrate poor listening skills at work— the effects of which can paralyse cross-unit collaboration, sink careers and, if it’s the CEO with the deficit, derail the company.” I’ve observed that as organisations have become flatter, more virtual and increasingly far-flung, it has become self-evident that effective leadership is predicated on effective communication and, in particular, on finely honed listening skills. As I journeyed on the path of practising and honing my listening skills I started to focus on been present fully and comprehending and I had to stop myself from trying to evaluate or solve problems in the moment, I’ve come to realise that this is my default mode, to work out the solution in my head as I listen and this comes in the way of my listening. Comprehending and simply restating what I have understood while listening to confirm the mutual understanding of both parties is what has created more presence for me as a listener.
This kind of listening is difficult to master, in part because it is at odds with today’s frenetically multitasking, information-overloaded, distraction-driven world, but perhaps more importantly because it runs counter to the way our brains have evolved to function. I’ve learnt that our listening brain is wired to do exactly what active listening discourages: evaluate input, predict outcomes, make judgements and perform triage, all on a moment-to-moment basis.
That means that listening is largely a top-down, strategic, cognitive process. As we take in the stimuli of the speaker’s words, the prefrontal cortex, which enables organising and prioritising, lights up with activity as we continually vet the incoming information against what we know, our past experiences and our theoretical construct of the future.
Viewed from that perspective, then, the challenge of active, empathetic listening requires no less than a wilful override of the brain’s preferred mode of operation. It requires that listeners we quell the brain’s biological need for efficiency, prediction and planning and employ a purely bottom-up process to become truly open to the input of others.
Listening resembles a muscle. It requires training, persistence, effort, and most importantly, the intention to become a good listener. It requires clearing your mind from internal and external noise. Here are some best practices that I have developed through my practice of harmonising my listening skills:
1. Comprehend Fully
2. Clarify what you have comprehended by listening and create a common understanding
3. Refrain from imposing your own solutions
4. Cultivate Curiosity and ask good questions
5. Reflect after your conversations and see what worked and consider how you can strengthen and apply this to other parts of your life. Look at the missed opportunities and be prepared to harness them.
“Truly empathetic listening requires courage — the willingness to let go of the old habits and embrace new ones. Once acquired, these listening habits are the very skills that transform you to True Leaders.
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