SEEK TO UNDERSTAND

April 17th, 2023 | Listening
SEEK TO UNDERSTAND

Excerpted with permission from Chapter Two of “The Art of Active Listening” by Heather R. Younger

To become a better listener at work, you must seek to understand. That means stepping outside those experiences that shaped how you see the world, so you can gain an understanding of what drives other people.

Active listening is about making a conscious effort to hear and understand someone else. When we actively listen, we demonstrate concern, limit our interruptions, and ask open-ended questions. We commit all of our attention to the speaker and establish an environment of trust and judgment-free engagement. At work, employees who experience being actively listened to feel a greater sense of belonging. They feel valued, appreciated, and inspired to show up for their team and organization.

When it comes to productivity, active listening has been shown to drastically improve communication and reduce the type of misunderstandings that can slow progress. In contrast, passive or distracted listening—when someone pretends to pay attention to what another person is saying but is actually thinking about or doing something else—can make people feel unimportant or unappreciated. At work, half-listening in this way can critically diminish morale. Active listening is a practice and a daily skill—not a onetime exercise—and as such it requires continual effort to generate long-term benefits

Reflective listening is a communication strategy involving two key steps: seeking to understand what another person is saying and then repeating what we think we heard back to them to confirm that we understood correctly. In a recent listening workshop, one gentleman shared that some years ago, he became frustrated by a colleague who in a meeting kept saying, “What I’m hearing you say is—” what felt like every 10 seconds. “I felt less heard by her doing that. She kept parroting back to me exactly what I was saying!”

I could sense his frustration and agreed with his assessment that he was on the receiving end of someone who was practicing some overenthusiastic reflective listening. The purpose of these types of techniques is to make listening two-way and empathetic. When we repeat back what we hear to be sure we confirm our understanding, we need to do so not in a cookie-cutter way but with the intention to let the other person know that we have processed what they said and what they didn’t say and are following what they are saying. We don’t need to be overly prescriptive in our approach, and we must remain aware of what others are feeling and need from us.

Phrases to Use in Reflective Listening

“You’re . . .”

“It sounds like . . .”

“It seems like . . .”

“I can see that you’re . . .”

 “What I’m hearing you say is . . .”

Empathetic listening takes active listening to the next level because it requires us to make an emotional connection with another person and search for common ground that will enable us to respond in a meaningful way. We don’t listen just with our ears but with our heart. We deliberately slow down and seek to understand with sincere intention. We don’t rush to provide a solution; we simply hold space for the other person to share.

Evaluative listening is when we make a judgment about what another person says. This active listening style requires us to compare what we’re hearing with what we already know or believe to be true and make careful inferences as a result.

TYPES OF QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN SEEKING TO UNDERSTAND

Open-Ended Questions

Use when you want someone to tell their side of the story. In other words, you want to uncover more.

  • How did that happen?
  • Why did she do that?
  • What happened next?
  • When did that take place?
  • Where did that happen?

Closed-Ended Questions

Use when you feel like you know enough, and are content with a yes or no response.

  • Have you spoken to so-and-so about this?
  • Do you know what to do next?
  • Are you OK figuring things out from here?

Whatever blend of listening styles you adopt in your bid to seek to understand, remember it’s all about practice. You can practice by constantly leaning in, paying attention to both nonverbal and verbal cues from others, and putting your skills to the test by following up to see if you understood correctly.

Note from Bob:  While it takes skill to lead with questions, it takes even more skill to develop the art of active listening!  Don’t be like our granddaughter was when she was 2!  She would ask a question and then run away before we could answer!  She was instantly a great question asker!  But it took time for her to also become a great listener!  Heather R. Younger can help all of us to grow our listening skills!  I know that reading the advance manuscript of Heather’s new book has helped me!  Order your “The Art of Active Listening” book today by clicking HERE

Heather R. Younger

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather R. Younger. is the founder and CEO of 9. She is an international keynote speaker, host of the “Leadership with Heart” podcast, and a workplace culture, employee engagement and diversity, equity and inclusion consultant. Heather has a law degree from the University of Colorado Boulder. She is the best-selling author of The 7 Intuitive Laws of Employee Loyalty and The Art of Caring Leadership.

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