January 09, 2006

Good day, team,

The coach’s challenge this week is about listening. These days, almost everyone in business is familiar with the idea of “active listening,” that is, listening for meaning, in which the listener checks with the speaker to see that a statement has been correctly heard and understood. The goal of active listening is to improve mutual understanding. Take a look at how Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, describes active listening:

Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding. It focuses attention on the speaker. Suspending one’s own frame of reference and suspending judgement are important in order to fully attend to the speaker. It is also important to observe the other person’s behavior and body language. Having heard, the listener may then paraphrase the speaker’s words. It is important to note that the listener is not necessarily agreeing with the speaker-simply stating what was said. In emotionally charged communications, the listener may listen for feelings. Thus, rather than merely repeating what the speaker has said, the active listener might describe the underlying emotion (“you’re angry” or “you feel frustrated, because…”).

When interacting, people often are not listening attentively to one another. They may be distracted, thinking about other things, or thinking about what they are going to say next (the latter case is particularly true in conflict situations or disagreements).

Individuals in conflict often contradict one another. This has the effect of denying the validity of the other person’s position. This can make people defensive, and they may either lash out or withdraw. On the other hand, if a person finds that the other party understands, an atmosphere of cooperation can be created. This increases the possibility of collaborating and resolving the conflict.

The benefits of active listening include getting people to open up, avoiding misunderstandings, resolving conflict and building trust.

Your challenge this week is to try active listening in your daily interactions with others. See if you can listen to people without thinking about what you’re going to say next while they’re still talking. Notice if you frequently interrupt others or cut their sentences short. These are all behaviors that can make other people feel unworthy.

Interestingly enough, most of us know when someone stops listening to us: Maybe the person looks at his or her watch while we’re speaking. We feel that the other person is discounting what we’re saying or that we’re wasting his or her time.

Try being fully attentive to others when they’re speaking. Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat themselves if you didn’t fully hear them. It’s worth the effort. I like this advice from Hugh Prather: “In order to listen, I will have to listen without obligation. I will have to give up my intention to hear. If I will let the meaning flow through me like wind blowing through leaves, then I can open up loosely to what is being said, instead of howling it down with my intensity.”

Have a great week!

Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
2839 NE Hoyt Street
Portland, Oregon 97232
(503) 296-9249

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