Listen up - how to exercise your listening muscles

Listening is a natural skill, but one that we forget to actively develop and practice.

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Like the muscles in the body; you need to exercise your listening skills – which requires discipline, focus, attention and practice.  Actively working on your listening builds trust, transforms the quality of your relationships, resolves conflicts, issues and problems and is essential for collaborative working.

The challenge - most of us like to think we are good listeners, that we can suspend judgement, provide space for others, and be present. However, with the best will in the world, many things prevent us from maximising our conversations and our ability to truly listen – such as time pressure, thinking about what we want to say, getting offended or hurt by what others say, leaping in to offer advice or problem solve, rescue or take care of others’ feelings.

Every conversation is a two-way street, an exchange involving two or more people, each with their own ideas, experiences, beliefs, feelings, motivations, and view of the world. Listening therefore is not simply passive hearing, it is active exercise, and involves clarifying, being sensitive to the context of the conversation, noticing body language, increasing awareness to the feelings behind the words, and to understand the other person’s reality.

Elevate your listening…. the 3 levels of listening - is a useful tool to build self-awareness and create greater capacity for listening to raise the level of your conversations

 Level 1: Transactional

At level one, conversation is focused on exchange of data, information, answers, and details.  We listen to the words of the other person, but the focus is on - what does this mean to me?  Do I care about what this person has to say? The focus is self-directed, on our thoughts, our feelings, our level of interest. At this level we fail to connect, and the conversation is all one way.

 Level 2: Positional

At level 2 we are attached to being right, we have a strong view or opinion and are working on influencing others.  By doing this we are imposing our own assumptions and may miss something valuable which could have given us insight access a different perspective, enabling us to gain new insights and new knowledge. 

 Level 3: Transformational

At level 3 we are curious and open to discovering the other persons point of view. Working with this mindset enables us to step into the world of the other person and see their perspective.  We can test our own assumptions, by clarifying, summarising, playing back, and getting behind the words to what the other person truly feels and thinks.  In doing so we create a shared understanding.

 Tips for effective listening…

  • Turn active listening into a daily habit and practice at every opportunity.  Ask yourself which level of listening I am at in this conversation? If it’s a 1 or 2, what do I need to do to move it to a level 3?  
  • Take the time, be attentive, face the speaker, maintain eye contact, and keep an open mind
  • Listen to the speaker’s words, play back their words, and summarise to build a clear picture of what they are saying
  • Notice what isn’t being said and any non-verbal clues
  • Try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how they are feeling
  • Don’t interrupt or impose your solutions  
  • Become aware of how good you are at listening by seeking feedback from people you know well

Zoe Jepson

Director, Zoe Jepson Collaborative Change Limited

I work with leaders and teams to enable them to Feel Confident, Feel Capable, and Feel Connected. I love the work I do, and I'm passionate about enabling individuals to create a relationship with work which provides purpose, fulfilment and a deeper connection with others. For example; developing self-confidence, better work-life balance, handling difficult conversations, and creating a positive impact. I also work with teams to help them have powerful conversations, so they can work together to harness their collective potential. Over the last 10 years of running my own executive coaching and personal development business, I have transformed the professional and personal lives of 100s of leaders, teams, and companies. I can do this for you too, by taking the time to find out about your purpose, goals, and challenges and then by developing tailored courses, programmes and solutions to your situation. I will work in partnership with you, to build a strong trusting relationship that will allow us together, to fully explore and achieve your potential, your team's potential and your companies' potential. My approach is down to earth and tailored to you to enable you and your team to work compassionately, positively, productively, and effectively together. You can trust that my coaching knowledge and experience is underpinned by the most up to date research, theory and practice from neuroscience, phychology, and coaching methods. As well as 25 years of personal experience I have gained a whole host of academic qualifications: PG Cert in Business and Personal Coaching. MA in Coaching Learning and Development. I’m an NCP Accredited Coach Supervisor and member of the International Coaching Federation. My research on Coaching Supervision was presented at the 4th European Mentoring and Council Research Conference in Paris 2014, and is published in Coaching: An International Journal of Theory Research and Practice. Whether you are just one person looking to become your best self or you are a leader of a team or company wanting to inspire your employees to achieve greater things, I have the experience, tools, courses and programmes to enable you to do it all. Why not take a more in-depth look at my courses and programmes now. Feel Confident, Feel Capable, Feel Connected.