Listening is a matter of degree.
When people speak to one another, they are looking for a response. The most minimal response indicates that the other person is aware that someone is speaking. It’s even better when the other person knows that the message is directed at him or her. So, the first level of listening is awareness of another person’s voice.
The second level of listening is making sense of what is heard. The easy part of understanding is just knowing what the words mean, but this part can be a challenge when there are language differences. Sense making becomes more demanding as it becomes more personal: what does this person mean when saying these words right now?
The third level of listening is responding. Some messages are simply seeing compliance or agreement. A nod or a “yes” are what the speaker is seeking. A lot of important messages are seeking a more thorough and extensive response. They are seeking some signs that the other person appreciates the importance of the message and the emotional investment the speaker has put into it. The third level of listening is more demanding. It requires more attention to the other person and more thought about the message. It also requires putting thought and feeling into the response, whether that response is in words or action.
Some miscommunications occur in listening. The words have reached the other person’s eardrums, but the response is absent or shallow. Careful listening gives a sense of psychological safety in a work group, increasing its resilience to face future challenges.
Here are three actions that improve listening:
- Pause. A quick response prevents deep reflection. A short pause before responding allows some consideration.
- Say Something. Giving a sign that the message has been heard is a polite thing to do. It’s not necessary to agree with everything you hear, but it is important to acknowledge it’s been heard.
- Eye Contact. Looking directly at the other person when responding conveys that the message is the most important thing at that moment.