Being a good listener is one of the most important attributes you can have as an entrepreneur. You need to heed some (but definitely not all) of the advice given to you by advisors/mentors/investors, as well as take on feedback from your customers and users. It is also essential to listen to some of the ideas your team and employees come up with – if you don’t listen properly, you will regret it days/weeks/months down the line when things begin to unravel beneath your feet.
Listening properly is also important in your social life. People often crave attention (it is human nature, after all) and, if you cannot listen to your friends/family and give them time, they will quickly grow tired of you. Is there such thing as learning to listen though?
I was introduced to what good listening really was and I realised that, in fact, I was an awful listener
I used to think I was quite a good listener. One day (a couple of years ago), however, I was introduced to what good listening really was and I realised that, in fact, I was an awful listener. Since that day, I have recognised good and bad listeners in everyday conversation with friends, family and colleagues. Listening well can help you influence people and forge better relationships.
Even though I now understand some of the theory behind listening, I still am quite a poor listener and often have to really focus and put my mind to it in order to listen well. I suspect many of the good listeners have no idea about some of the theories behind good listening – this has really impressed me.
In this post, I will give a brief overview of some of the theory and core principles behind listening so that you can be aware of what good listening is and, especially if your listening is as bad as mine, become a better listener by learning to listen.
What is Listening?
Listening is not just the process of receiving information through our ears, or hearing the words coming out of someone’s mouth. It is also how we filter what we hear and what our intentions are for the conversation that we are having.
Being a good listener is important for two big reasons:
- Information accrual – Gathering facts and opinions, e.g, about your product if you’re an entrepreneur
- Relationship building – Being someone who can listen to what someone else is saying without shifting the conversation to revolve around themselves is incredibly refreshing for everyone else – trust me
Levels of Listening
The quality at which you are listening, and your intentions for the conversation, can be rated along several levels:
Level 0 – Attention Seeking
Level 0 listening isn’t really listening. It occurs when you repeatedly (and often subconsciously) divert the conversation back to (and talk about) yourself. Phrases such as: “Yeah, just like the time when I…” or, “That happened to me too, and I…”, switch the focus of the conversation back to yourself rather than the speaker.
If you’ve ever been in a conversation where you are all taking it in turns to talk about your individual experiences (e.g., places you’ve each been travelling), that’s a Level 0 conversation. This is the level that I was at without realising (and sometimes still am at, particularly when tired).
Level 1 – Self Interested
Level 1 listening is figuring out what is being said impacts you
Level 1 involves listening to someone and diverting the conversation towards your self interest or what concerns us as the listener – in short, it is figuring out what is being said impacts you. An example could be asking someone whether they would recommend their most recent holiday destination (so that you know where to plan a trip) rather than how they actually found their holiday. This implies little interest in the speaker’s needs.
Level 2 – Understanding Other Perspectives
This level of listening involves learning the other person’s perspective and confirming your understanding, perhaps by summarising the content thus far or by asking meaningful questions to test what you have heard. In addition, you are actively trying to work out not just what is being said, but how it is being said. There is a much greater focus on understanding how the speaker sees and understands issues. Non-verbal language to demonstrate your interest also comes into play if it hasn’t already, such as:
- Making eye contact
- Giving your full attention
- Ignoring other thoughts in your head
If you can’t summarise the entire conversation thus far, you haven’t been listening at Level 2.
Level 3 – Mutuality
Level 3 involves fully engaging the speaker. This is achieved by listening carefully to find common interests and positions, and being enthusiastic and interested in the speaker’s thoughts and perspectives. Conversations at this level often result in you working together to deliver value from the chat (e.g., by planning to meet again, sharing contacts, helping out, etc). If you can hit this level, congratulations – you are a great listener.
Applying the Theory
I found that understanding the theory made me realise my “bad habits”. While I was often interested in what the speakers had to say, I was subconsciously not demonstrating it and routinely talking about myself, thus giving off a bad impression. A little tweak to change the direction you nudge the conversation can often work wonders for how people perceive you, and how you perceive others.