How People Listen
Listening. You’ve heard the bromides:
Hearing is listening to what is said. Listening is hearing what isn’t said.
The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand, we listen to reply.
We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
Well, it’s one thing to SAY it, but it’s something entirely different to actually DO it.
So let’s take a closer look at how people actually DO listen and what you can do to help yourself more readily learn and grow.
The Four Levels How People Listen
Level One – They DON’T!
Just being honest here! Oh, sure, people PRETEND to listen all the time, but what they’re REALLY doing is something else. Like daydreaming or working on other things. Or thinking about what they’re going to do later today or what they want to say next. Or (when communicating remotely) checking email or doing a Sudoku or something like that.
Fact is, people don’t listen some 85%-90% of the time!
Do I need to repeat that because you weren’t listening?! (And, yes, I completely made up that statistic!!)
Because ‘not listening’ has long been so prevalent, I used to ask my staff to tell me whenever they thought I was giving them something other than my undivided attention. It was pretty embarrassing at first, frankly. But over time, and with significantly more intention, I found that I – and those who knew I was working on my listening skills – got much, MUCH better at it. Together, we learned how much easier it is to communicate when people actually ARE listening to each other.
Level Two – They Round DOWN
So, okay, once people learn (or decide) to actually listen, about 8-10% of them (another fabricated statistic) listen for things like ‘why the other person is wrong’ or how what they, themselves, just said is far more insightful or compelling than whatever whoever is saying now. Even if the other person is making a relatively cogent point, those who Round Down routinely discount its value.
In many ways, this is how divorced or contentious partners listen. And, for many, it’s how they listen to their bosses – whatever is said is disrespectful, demotivating, and flat-out wrong.
Level Three – They Round UP
With all that out of the way, we can now turn our attention to what we can call ‘productive’ listening. People who Round Up give others the benefit of the doubt. They listen not just for the words, but for the ‘spirit’ of what’s being said.
It’s like when you first just dating someone – it really didn’t matter what they said; it was all wonderful!! Sure, maybe the words didn’t make all that much sense or the topics weren’t all that interesting to you, but somehow they still were! You hung on every word and heard only goodness!
Level Four – They Round OUT
Rounding OUT is about listening for how what’s being said is the key to understanding a deeper meaning and personal relevance for you, personally and/or professionally. Combined with Rounding UP, Rounding OUT can provide some real insight, growth, and opportunity.
Putting It All Together
Here’s a quick exercise you can do to see (and practice) these four different levels of listening.
Start by remembering something your boss (or someone else) said to you, recently, that you didn’t particularly care for, and apply the following 3-step process:
- Write down the WORDS that were said – try to get as close to verbatim as possible
- Identify the BIGGER POINT – round it UP so that you get a glimpse of positivity from it
- Extrapolate the DEEPER INSIGHT – round it OUT so that you see what personal growth it points you to
Would an example or two help?
Example 1 – This one is from one of my very first performance reviews as a new supervisor, something my boss told me that stuck in my craw for literally decades:
- the WORDS – “Your desk is a mess.”
- the BIGGER POINT – that you really can’t be successful if you’re disorganized
- the DEEPER INSIGHT – that I really was more disorganized than I realized; more disorganized that I wanted to admit; and it really was high-time I faced that reality (and limitation) if I wanted to make something out of myself as a leader.
In terms of the four levels, I went from ignoring the comment in my midterm review (NOT listening) to explaining it away on my year-end review (Rounding DOWN) to considering the BIGGER POINT (Rounding UP) to realizing the DEEPER INSIGHT (Rounding OUT)…to then actually doing something to meaningfully address the realization.
Example 2 – Comments from another boss, several years later, right after I was promoted to run an entire department:
- the WORDS – “You’ve got to get things done faster; hit them head-on.”
- the BIGGER POINT – that it was both my job and responsibility to insure that ‘good things were happening sooner.’
- the DEEPER INSIGHT – that I was less ‘courageous’ than I wanted to admit; relied more on ‘fearlessness’ than I realized; and it was high-time I faced that challenge of not just dabbling at the edges, where it was far more comfortable for me.
Again, in terms of the four levels, I first continued to work on only what came easy to me (NOT listening) before trying to explain away the feedback based on all the good work I was already doing (Rounding DOWN) to focusing on what it was that maybe I was avoiding (Rounding UP) to intentionally challenging myself to, indeed, work of whatever was most meaningful and impactful to work on, no matter how difficult and scary it seemed.
Now you do it.
- Share the WORDS that were said
- Identify the BIGGER POINT
- Extrapolate the DEEPER INSIGHT
What did you learn about listening from this exercise? What BIGGER POINTS points and DEEPER INSIGHTS insights did you discover? How much more empowered do you feel about what makes sense to do next?
Great! Now Rinse and Repeat, as necessary, and help yourself learn and grow.