Do You Listen “To” or Listen “For”?

Recently we were delivering training to a group of executives who are committed to developing their internal leadership talent by personally facilitating monthly learning forums. As part of the training we had them each complete our Coaching Skills Assessment to identify the skills used in coaching and mentoring. We asked them to share what skills they identified as their strengths and which skills were identified as development areas. The resounding response on the skill needing development was “Listening and observing”. Discussion followed on how each of them found themselves listening “to” the information for answers they were seeking, versus listening “for” to better understand what the person communicating was intending. The training was followed by a coaching session I had with another client who had just participated in a 360 Feedback process. In reviewing their 360 report results, the consistent theme expressed in the written comments by each of the rater groups was poor listening skills. The leader was surprised and disappointed that they were not seen as an effective communicator due to their listening skills. Their initial reaction was, “Maybe it is not my listening, but more about their not wanting to hear my answer, especially if I am have to tell them no.”

This consistent theme of poor listening caused me to reflect further on why listening is so difficult. I thought about my own experiences, knowing when I am truly listening to someone I have to be 100% present in the conversation and focused entirely on them. To do so requires a great deal of energy and discipline. It means staying present in the experience and being truly interested in learning more about the person. I also recognized that my ability to listen is what promotes trust in the relationship. Then I thought about what happens when I feel someone is genuinely listening to me and I recognized it resulted in my being much more open, often times sharing information at a deeper level, and in turn having a stronger connection to the person who demonstrated active listening skills. I also realized that certain relationships require stronger listening skills until you have created the level of trust.

The following  addresses the 2 very distinct styles of listening, each having their place, with Level 2 requiring the most skill and discipline. The descriptors are intended to provide clarity on knowing when you are listening at what level so you can be more intentional when you are in the role of listener.

Level 1 Listening - "To":  

Our focus is on what is being said means to usCan be fun and relaxingConversation stays at the surface levelOften times we are waiting to talkWe focus our thoughts and our comfort or discomfort with the situation the person is in, and how we would handle it, on our judgments and feelings about the situation and the people in itWe interrupt and chime in frequentlyWe ask leading questions

Level 2 Listening - "For":

Our focus is on the other personWe stay in the present momentListen for the meaning behind words and the underlying beliefs and mindsets of the person speakingParaphrase for clarityWe pay attention to the persons' words, expressions, emotions and areas of conflict. Notice what makes them "light up" and what makes them lose energy.We use good eye contact and head nodsWe ask open-ended questions

In closing, I am providing some examples of when it's the best time to rely on your Level 2 listening skills:

In your role as Manager/Supervisor to learn more about your employees’ strengths, aspirations and goalsIn your role of providing customer service to better understand your internal or external customers' needsWhen you are in a new role in an organization and want to learn the culture and valuesWhen you want to build trust in a new or ongoing relationshipWhen you want to understand the source of conflict or friction in your relationshipWhen you are communicating with someone from a different background than your own

 So… do you notice yourself listening “To” or listening “For”?