I’m in Omaha, Nebraska as I write this during Gallup’s Strength Summit. This is a gathering of likeminded folks who utilize Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinders in coaching, facilitation and self-discovery. I am taking an Advanced CliftonStrengths Coaching course to help hone my coaching skills. Yesterday, we spent part of the class talking about Reflective Listening, and I think it’s a skill we all can use to better our relationships and to connect on a more meaningful level with the people in our lives.
I think that being heard is an art that is being dissolved by our hyper connectivity. Our brains are hijacked by screen time and the constant checking of our phones, that we rarely take the time to connect. I think in my coaching practice that the main reason people seek my coaching is to be truly heard. To connect. To feel understood. It seems so simple, yet most of us go through the day without being heard and, in turn, rarely create the space to truly listen to someone else.
Here are the secrets to give the gift of being heard:
Technology Free Zone: Turn off your phone. Stow it away. Pack your laptop up. Perhaps go outside and take a walk with whomever you would like to listen to. The minute you pick up your phone or check your iWatch, that is telling the other person that there is “a notification that is more important than you.” As written by Melissa Dahl for The Cut, “Recent research has also found that the presence of a cellphone — again, even if no one uses or even touches it— weakens our ability to connect with other people, especially when we’re trying to discuss something meaningful. When you’re trying to concentrate, on work or on the person you’re with, it’s best to put the phone away.” So, unless you are waiting for a call from the Lottery Commission, turn off your technology to truly listen.
Listening with your answer running: This is called Level One listening. You are listening, mostly to wait for your partner to take a breath so that you can jump in and respond. A really poor example of this was a study outlined by Julie Spitzer for Hospital Review, “On average, patients have 11 seconds to explain the reasons for their visit before physicians interrupt, according to a recent study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.” I had a long standing habit for interrupting, I know it’s a difficult habit to break. If you let go of your response and let your partner talk freely, they will be more forthcoming as they won’t feel as though they have to rush. Let go of the answer. Be present.
Listening for content: This is called Level Two listening. This is focused listening. You are paying attention to details. As a coach, I am noting the use of particular words, especially the repeating of the same word. So, it might look like, “Joe, I’ve heard you say ‘move forward’ six times since we started talking. What would help you do that?” I’ve had my coach, Tammi Wheeler, tell me how many times I’ve spoken a word and I feel deeply heard. When someone is counting how many times you’ve said a particular word, I know that we are connected and that I am being understood. It helps me realize connections and patterns that I wouldn’t be able to do on my own. Listen for content.
Listen with all your senses: This is called Global Listening. You might think that this can only happen in person but being that I coach most of my clients on the phone, it’s amazing what you can “hear”–whether it be an energy shift or drop in the voice. I’ve asked, “Did you just sit up straight? I felt an energy shift.” When you use all your senses, you feel deeply connected and, outside of discovery and curiosity, all agendas are dropped. I am fully present to whomever I am listening to. I can hear my daughter say, “Yeah, I’m going to look for a new job.” But I will point out that I don’t hear any energy around that and not hold any judgement around it. I don’t want my coachee to feel obligated toward action unless they are committed. When you listen with all your senses, you’ll know when someone is committed to action because you will feel it.
Be comfortable with silence: I think this comes with age or maybe hundreds of hours of training. I still remember during my first training certification over a decade ago, the instructor told us to be comfortable with silence. I had a need to fill in the gap with my voice. During my MBTI training, the facilitator told us to count to twenty seconds after asking a question. TWENTY SECONDS?!? That’s an eternity when you are standing in front of a room as a new trainer. When you get comfortable with silence and let the conversation lapse a few times, you realize it gives space. It makes you present. I remember my boyfriend, Roy, commenting on how I was comfortable with silence. That has been a decade in the making and I am happy to report that it makes space for being present. Work on getting comfortable with silence.
The most important take away is that this all takes time and practice. Don’t expect to be able to hit on all cylinders right away. We are all just works-in-progress along a continuum of mastery. It’s such an important gift and if you think about it…it’s completely free. The only cost is your attention, presence and time. Who needs to be the recipient of your listening skills?