We usually think communication is about what we or others say, but ultimately it’s about what we or others hear!

Amazingly, we listen best at around the age of three.  As small children, we mimic and copy what those around us say.  At that age our minds are relatively uncluttered and receptive, and it is only as we get older, more opinionated and with more distractions that our ability to listen deteriorates.  Skilful listeners focus on the speaker, and do not allow themselves to be distracted.

Seth Horowitz, an auditory neuroscientist, has said that, unsurprisingly, listening is becoming increasingly difficult in a world filled with digital distractions and one in which we regularly compromise speed for meaning.

Of course we all have our frantically busy moments but we all want to be better leaders, friends, colleagues, parents and spouses and we can be by learning to listen to those we care about.  Some years ago my teenage son said to me in a very memorable moment, “Mum I know that you love me because you listen to me!”

The International Listening Association has published guidelines to help practice and achieve deep listening.  These are some of their recommendations …

  1. Assume a proper physical posture that says “I am open to listen” by
  • Squarely facing the speaker
  • Adopting an open posture, no folded arms
  • Leaning slightly towards the speaker
  • Remembering that eye contact is of great importance
  • Relaxing yourself as you keep silent and focus on the speaker
  1. Limit distractions – put all mobile devices away so you can give the speaker your full attention.
  2. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes – ask yourself “how would I feel if I was in their position?”

Give plenty of room for the speaker to talk and explain so they feel that they have been heard, whatever the ensuing discussion.

  1. Forget your own agenda… Ask questions; get a picture of what they are thinking and feeling.

It takes courage to listen, to lay down our own thoughts, opinions and agendas to give room for someone else, but the results are worth it.  We will then be able to give a wise and considered response instead of an ignorant one.