People talk about active listening or deep listening. Why is it so important? And what does it look and feel like?

Why is deep listening so important?

Deep Listening, let’s deal with why it’s so important first. Our spoken words alone can never fully express what the ‘everything’ of an issue means to us. But as leaders, we do need to be able to pick up on as much of the ‘everything’ as possible AND manage our own responses effectively. And that requires two things.

First it requires that we use all our faculties and observation antenna to pick up on what someone says, and what they don’t say, what they leave out as well as how they say things or strive to veil their real feelings, and the shifts in their energy or posture. These cues are sign-posts to those ‘everythings’ that our direct report or conversation partner doesn’t know how to express or feels uncomfortable expressing.

Secondly, it requires that we respond sensitively and appropriately to what we’re picking up so we can support our conversation partner in their thinking. And that includes how we use language to share our observations and how we use questions to gain permission and explore those observations. As leaders, the responsibility of how we respond to what a person says is ours. In other words, we need to regulate our own emotions and respond in a helpful way.

So, back to my original question, why is deep listening so important? It’s important because it greats growth. Growth between you and your direct report because it’s an exercise in building understanding and strengthening your relationships. That’s all about building trust, emotional connections, and raising oxytocin levels.

Deep listening also creates growth and self-awareness because it offers up opportunities to surface potential risks and blockers to work getting done.

So, what does deep listening look and feel like? Here are 3 signs of deeper listening and you can begin practicing them straight after watching this video:

#1 — SLOW DOWN

So you can notice those shifts and your brain has time to process your observations and catch-up with your other thoughts. Curb your desire to jump in with your ideas and your solutions because this limits their enthusiasm to think or contribute to the conversation – if you handle it right, there’ll be plenty of time for you to share your thoughts later on in the conversation.

#2 — BE PATIENT

Don’t expect people to be able to articulate their thoughts perfectly the first time they share them. Let people have 2 or 3 goes at expressing themselves. Summarise and check you’ve heard them right and then let them speak some more. That has the effect of externalising the situation they are talking about, taking it out of their own heads, and it allows them to see things from the outside. This can create amazing clarity and gives them a chance to re-evaluate things.

#3 — LEAVE LONGER SILENCES

Recognise that some thoughts take courage to express. We do an enormous amount of self-censoring. We prefer to hold back to be on the safe side rather than risk expressing an opinion we think might get knocked down or that might offend. Leaving longer silences after someone speaks invites them to keep talking. And make sure you acknowledge that courage by saying something like, “I appreciate you sharing that with me, thank you.” And take care how you use that information — they’ve just taken a leap and shared something that to them is important – don’t break that trust.

Deep ListeningAll-in all, when someone is talking with us, we’re lucky if we absorb 25% of what they’re expressing both verbally and non-verbally. As leaders, we need to absorb an extra 30-50% if we are to pick up on the cues that helps us explore more, ask good questions, and grow our people.

And when you can absorb that much more information through deep listening, your conversations will feel different. In fact, they should feel different. You should feel calmer and more aware, and your direct report should feel that you get them, that you understand them and that talking with you is clarifying and deeply satisfying.