Updated: Nov 1
I recently started a coaching relationship with a new client who asked me about “active listening”. Such a beautiful concept - in theory...to be fully present, to listen with fresh ears, to remove any preconceived notions and to truly hear whomever you are engaged in conversation with. To not only hear, but to truly take it in and be able to respond accordingly.
This is great in theory, but exceptionally hard in practice. We can get overwhelmed by daily stressors as well as our relationship with the person (or persons) we are engaged with. We unconsciously listen with filters based on our past experiences and our deep -rooted desires. Meaning, if we want to impress whomever we are engaged with, we may be thinking ahead to the next thing we want to say or ask. If we are triggered by, have annoyances with, or any lingering baggage with those individuals, it is hard to give the benefit of the doubt and can come across defensively or disengaged.
When we think about active listening, there are 3 levels of listening. These are:
Subjective listening is based on the listener and the listener alone. Whatever is said is heard through the filter or experiences of that person and how they relate to the content and/or the speaker. This is the most common type of listening and while this kind of listening may allow for the intent of the content to be heard, it does not really allow for it to be understood. For example, if someone were to say “I’m really annoyed by the results of this project”, the subjective listener may respond with something like “yeah, I wasn’t very motivated about it.” The listener related to the content as it associated with them and not with any focus on the speaker.
Objective listening is more active, more engaged. As opposed to subjective listening, it is completely focused on the person who is speaking with no thoughts or notions about how any of the information relates personally to them. While this level is a very effective listening style, it doesn’t necessarily get to active listening or to the essence of the conversation. It doesn’t get to what’s NOT being said. Using the same example, the listener may respond to the same statement “seems like you’re annoyed about this project.”
Finally, intuitive listening is the third and most active form of listening. This type of listening is without judgment, without assumption and is fully engaged. It is listening with all senses AND with intuition, listening to context clues, body language, tone of voice, sensing overall energy, etc. This type of listening is also about what is NOT being said and hearing between the lines, tuning into the true intent of the communication. This type of listening is the most powerful and allows the listener to really connect with the speaker. Again, using the same example, the response here may be “Not only were the results less than desired, it is clear that you personally feel responsible and are committed to finding a better solution in the future.”
While each of these levels of listening happen every day, intuitive listening leads to the best form of leadership because one can truly hear what is most important, one can understand the sense of urgency, the emotional context and the true needs of the speaker. With this level of listening, a leader can truly meet their people where they are, shift them into greater energy and into greater successes.
Having someone really listen, truly listen, to you is a profound experience. When that happens, true relationships are built. The speaker feels heard, they establish trust and buy-in, conflict is more readily resolved and potential for great success is formed.
As a leader – and as a human – you will naturally listen at all three levels. By becoming more aware of how you’re listening, you can become a natural intuitive listener and integrate it into all of your professional (and personal relationships too).
As you continue to establish your leadership presence and grow as a person, consider how you can truly listen, not just with your ears but with your whole self. Be present and remove any bias.
And if you need more tips on active listening, schedule a laser coaching session with us today!