In today’s column, I will introduce the concept of “Intentional Listening” and explain how leaders can develop this skill to be more connected to everyone in their business circles.
There is a big difference between “hearing” and “listening.” We often hear the people around us, whether engaged in a group dialogue or one-to-one discussion, but we don’t always “listen.”
Especially in today’s environment where there are so many platforms to speak, we are bombarded with noise and messages that dissolve into useless babble.
Ideally, the art of conversation is an intentional exchange between two like-minded individuals that is mutually beneficial, and creates connection and harmony. In this circumstance, the two participants are equal partners. The speaker is active, and the listener is receptive. A conversation in which someone is speaking but no one is listening – either intentionally or non-intentionally – creates disharmony in the conversation and the relationship.
Conversation, or immersing ourselves in a pure listening environment such as listening to a speaker, offers us an amazing gift of learning. Every time someone speaks to us, we have an opportunity to expand our perspective, learn something we don’t know, or even confirm what we do know. The more present we are, the more we can open our minds.
Taking this premise one step further is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. These are agreements we make with ourselves regarding how we will relate to the world around us. The third agreement is Don’t Make Assumptions . When we come to situations and interactions with a clean slate and objective perspective, we are open to receiving. This applies to our state of listening as well. A non-judgmental mindset is a gateway to growth and connection. A mindset that is shaped by judgment and opinion limits our capacity to accept new ideas and our ability to see another person’s point of view.
Just like any skill, intentional listening initially requires self-awareness, a desire to change your mindset and behavior, and practice.
Let’s start with self-awareness. When you engage with another person, how connected are you? Are you thinking of your to-do list? Are you looking at your phone and checking email? Are you making eye-contact? One of the reasons I insist on using Skype with my coaching clients instead of a simple phone call is because it requires both parties to be fully present.
A desire to change your mindset and behavior. Once you have become self-aware, you own the decision to become more engaged. Do you view your conversations and dialogues as something that disrupts your day? Or do you see them as opportunities to connect and grow? As a business leader, every conversation we have with an employee, customer, partner, prospect or other stakeholder is an opportunity to open a door to places we can’t imagine. So many of our relationships are pathways to other connections and growth opportunities that we can not see on the surface. It all starts with intentional communication.
Once you’ve decided to be an intentional listener, try to look at your behavior from the perspective of the person with whom you are engaging. What energy are you contributing? Are you patient? Hurried? Distracted? How would you want to be listened to? When it is your turn to listen, it is the other person’s opportunity to serve. How controlled are you in your exchange of ideas? Intentional listening requires a greater sense of calm and self-assurance than talking. An intentional listener does not feel desperation to dominate.
Intentional listening requires us to be present in the moment. It is one of the purest forms of mindfulness. It helps us to balance our relationships with others.
Practice. One of the most important times to be an intentional listener is when it may be the hardest, and that is when we need to have a difficult conversation. This may happen when we are giving a performance review, terminating or laying off an employee, meeting with an unhappy customer, negotiating with a vendor, giving honest feedback on a project, etc. Our bodies may feel stressed, we may be feeling mistrust, or we may have anxiety around the topic or the outcome.
To mitigate the physical effects of difficult conversations, it’s important to be fully engaged and focused on your partner. Remember to listen fully to every word, rather than formulate responses before the other person is finished speaking. The exchange is not solely about your agenda. Conversations are an opportunity to move past disharmony and towards solutions for the greater good.
Conversely, being fully engaged in positive conversations can transform our lives. They connect us with like-minded people, they inspire us, and they help us grow. Transformational conversation is not simply based on clever articulation. It is equally dependent on how connected, receptive, and perceptive we are as listeners.
Intentional listening requires us to care about the other person, it requires bravery, patience, and compassion, and it requires us to release our need to dominate or steer the interaction. While listening may seem as a passive, receptive act, it is actually a highly intentional, engaging skill set that fosters growth and connection, both at the personal and organizational level.
Wishing everyone a Mindful Monday and a productive, connected week.
Marissa’s Mindfulness Mantra: I am living my truth. I am living with good intentions. I am working hard to meet my obligations in a moral and ethical manner. I am living with integrity. I am at peace with my choices. I am striving to live from a place of faith rather than fear. I can not change the past, nor can I predict the future. I can only create my best version of Now. Regardless of ultimate outcomes, I have my truth