Two Ears & One Mouth

It’s an under-rated skill, but it is the one most people deeply appreciate in others: listening.

Great Reception

Our reception of others’ expression is listening. Most North Americans give weighted attention to talking. Glib talkers, people who are articulate get loads of stage time. While any capable communicator must have both verbal and writing skills, we too often underestimate listening.

A great listener pays attention to the speaker and demonstrates the ability to understand, interpret and evaluate what’s said. Why is this so critical?  Listening well accomplishes several things: it generates rapport, establishes shared meaning, and provides information. These are essential to both relationship and understanding. The reception that occurs is the launch pad for dialogue. Listening can help avoid mistrust – it can build trust. It can resolve conflicts. It offers vital insight for constructive use. It provides key inputs for transparency and learning. Listening also supports a safe, healthy culture.

Thomas Gordon is credited with the idea of “active listening.” It requires us to:

suspend a point of reference,

preclude judgment and

to avoid other mental action.

This isn’t easy. There are many barriers to effective listening. They include distractions, trigger words, limited vocabulary, attention span, emotions and psycho-social and physical noise. Time and skills are challenges to being a great listener. Listening does take time. It requires being present to another individual or, when in a group, to several people. 

Destructive Mis-Use

The “passive violence” of indifference is often shown by no appetite or disinterest in listening.However, like sincerity, it is possible to “fake” listening. We’ve all seen people do it. When we recognize that tactic – it can cause offense. It’s a disingenuous action that conveys disrespect. It simply takes information or interrogates without goodwill. This behavior can be particularly destructive to relationships. It burns bridges.

When participating in small groups or individual conversations, watch yourself and others for these errors:

Pseudo-listening. Polite physical presence with no internal registration or meaning.

Shift response. Moving conversation to a self focus as you compete for attention and make your own needs primary.

Glaze over. Your mind is on other issues and active with concerns completely unconnected to the speaker.

Stage hogging. Grabbing “air time” to filibuster with your own verbal delivery that conquers and dominates others.

Authentic intention is crucial to active, genuine listening. The “test” of a capable listener is the relative capacity to repeat, paraphrase and reflect the speaker’s intent.  It means you can exactly mimic, similarly rephrase and confirm with your own words. Some think that our “equipment” as humans signals a practical wisdom: two ears and one mouth are significant. These levels of interpretation indicate accurate reception with increasing sensitivity.

Better managing and leading requires us to listen carefully. Listening shows sustained interest in others. And, when you’re the speaker, how does that feel?

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

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2 Responses to “Two Ears & One Mouth”

  1. The Ed Buzz Says:

    I think the hardest part is not pseudo – listening. People need you to be present when they are talking to you. But, in the fog of the average day, it can be hard sometimes to remember that.

  2. Manage Better Now Says:

    Listening is a skill I certainly need to continue to work on. I have a tendency to finish thoughts for people that are building up to their point. I am working on it though. Thanks for the reminder to keep working.

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