I am claiming 2017 as the Year of the Ear. The year of deep listening. It’s the only way to resolution. Whether the resolution is finding ways to work together on things we can agree on or agreeing to disagree. Without listening, we are just whiners and yellers mislabeling intolerance as passion.
My gift to you this holiday season is a skillset you can use to deepen your own listening. Whether you are an educator, facilitator, funder, parent, service provider, sibling, spouse or a dear friend of someone whose politics are diametrically opposed to yours, these four components of committed listening (Source: Coaching Conversations by Linda M. Gross Cheliotes & Marceta F. Reilly) will heighten your ability to listen. Try them out. And happy ear year.
Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal communication.
When someone keeps shaking their head or frowning, ask them what’s going on. Try non-conclusive questions like “What are you thinking right now? “ or “Your response does not match your expression.” The more you pay attention to those nonverbal messages that are found in tone, body language, and other hard-to-describe nuances, the more understanding you will gain.
We tend to engage in conversations as if we are playing tennis. You hit the ball to me, I hit it back. And if we miss the ball, we lose. We need to turn that thinking on its head. The next time someone throws the ball to you, hold it. Tell them you are thinking and that you don’t want to respond without considering the impact. Or ask questions before you move to respond. Stay curious. What else could you learn or know before you move to making a conclusion? When engaging teams in conversation with each other, invite them to consider their own responses to a question or issue before delving into conversation. This facilitates deeper listening because no one is working to compose their thoughts while others are talking. It’s already done. A youth development professional coined the term WIBYT (Write It Before You Talk) to encourage deeper listening in group settings.
Avoid unproductive patterns of listening.
You know when your listening is compromised. When you already have an opposing argument, that’s judgment or criticism. When everything you hear must be compared to your own lived experience, that’s autobiographical listening. When you put the person on trial, that’s inquisitive listening. And when you are forming a solution as they speak, that’s solution listening. None of these practices lend themselves to listening to seek understanding.
Listen without obligation to act.
Just as we are trained to keep the conversation volleying, we are also trained to make a move, take action, do something differently as a result of listening to what people have to say. One of my favorite meeting norms is “Accept nonclosure.” When you listen with no obligation to act, you can better understand the needs of others while also building trust in the relationship. It also provides an opportunity for deeper reflection for the speaker.
During this holiday season, give the gift of a listening ear.