Am I Really Listening?

Steven Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (first published in 1988) says that a lot of people listen with the intent to reply and not to understand, listening to ourselves instead of the other person as we prepare what we are going to say and the questions we are going to ask. Does this sound familiar? How well do you listen?

Here are 3 key skills that help you listen more effectively:

  1. Paying attention: A primary goal of active listening is to set a comfortable tone and allow time and opportunity for the mentee to think and speak. Pay attention to your frame of mind, your body language and the other person. Be present, focused on the moment and operate from a place of respect.
  1. Holding judgement: Active listening requires an open mind. As a listener and a leader, you need to be open to new ideas, new perspectives and new possibilities. Even when good listeners have strong views, they suspend judgment, hold their criticism and avoid arguing or selling their point right away. Tell yourself, “I’m here to understand how the mentee sees the world. It is not time to judge”.
  1. Reflecting: Learn to mirror the mentee’s message and emotions by paraphrasing key points. You don’t need to agree or disagree. Reflecting is a way to indicate that you heard and understand. Don’t assume that you understand correctly or that the other person knows you have heard them

So, what sort of listener are you?

  1. Are you a ‘lazy’ listener or are you actively listening all the time?
  2. Do you have poor concentration and memory or are you able to fully concentrate on the speaker?
  3. Do you debate what the speaker is saying or do you carefully consider what they are saying and reserve judgement until they are finished?
  4. Do you create distractions by doodling, gazing around the room, or daydreaming or do you fully concentrate on the speaker and what they are saying by taking notes and remembering the key points in their message?

True listening, says Covey, means that you forget about yourself and concentrate all of your energies on being with the other person in real time. And even if your intention is to help, giving advice without being asked for it can end up damaging a relationship.

Michael Nichols in his book The Lost Art of Listening (2009) has a similar view, “Genuine listening means suspending judgement and for a few moments at least, existing for the other person.”

Isn’t this what mentoring is all about?