3 Types of Listening

3 Types of Listening Likely Stopping You From Connecting (and what to do about them)

We have a kind of listening-deficit. Of course more-broadly, a connection-deficit.

Each of us carry a deep yearning to be heard, to be understood. We hold what to us are unique perspectives, insight and experiences that bolster our identity, our worth in the world and if not shared, heard and affirmed in some way have us feel alone, not-enough or simply not-valued.

The problem? Many of us (including myself at the best of times) are challenged with the practice of listening deeply. Even if we are the ones seeking such connection, even we struggle to move beyond reactive listening, to full acknowledgement and understanding.

It seems like a rather simple practice, one that we’re taught in 2nd grade. So even writing about it, feels like such a rudimentary topic. But, often times, the things that are perceivably the easiest to do, are also the easiest to forget to do.

Let’s explore that together in this piece, outlining some common models of listening we are all guilty of, and some practical tools for moving beyond mechanical listening to authentic relating.

Firstly, the let’s remember the difference between simply hearing and listening.

DefinitionThe process, function or power of perceiving sound. One’s ability to receive sound.Verb, to pay attention to sound, to attend closely with the ear, and the mind.
What is it?It’s an ability.It’s a skill.
ActIt’s physiological, one of the 5 senses.It’s psychological.
ProcessIt’s a passive bodily process.It’s an active psychological process.
Occurs atSubconscious levelConscious level
ConcentrationNot requiredRequired

So it is clear that we want to move beyond simply hearing what people are saying, and making a conscious effort to receive, make-meaning and connect with what is being said.

Having said that though, here is a list of the 3 most-prominent types of listening today. I fall into them, you’ll very likely notice one or two, or three that you fall into sometimes too. The purpose of this list is building awareness. When we have awareness around our common behaviours, when we make them conscious, we open up the possibility to laugh at them and replace them with new ones!

So let’s have compassion for the fact that our habits are coping mechanisms for the environments and systems we exist within. We’re all simply doing the best we can with what we’ve got 😉

Here it goes.

1. Surf listening

What: Studies have shown that within the first 7 seconds of a conversation, majority of our mental activity is only concerned with how we are going to respond.

Why: Silence is uncomfortable, and of course we want to make sure our response is sensible, makes sense and has us seen in the way we’d like to be seen.

We have an uneasiness about the dreaded “awkward silence” in between our conversation partner finishing their utterance and when it is our turn to respond. So, we spend the whole time coming up with our response, so that as soon as they’ve finished we can launch into it. Also, so that our response is well thought out and is something we’re confident in delivering.

Often, this means we come up with something in the first half of their utterance, and simply repeat this through our minds refining it until they’re done so we can launch in. Are we listening at all? We run the risk of then responding with something that isn’t really related to where they have ended up in their utterance, we’re only responding to the keywords we heard in the beginning. Mis-match.

An alternative: Embracing the silence, fully receiving their sharing. What if we noticed our own response formulate naturally as it will, but choose instead to listen fully to our partner. Then, once they’ve come to the end of their sharing, acknowledge what they’ve said and take just 2-3 seconds to consider what was shared and then formulate and share your response.

2. Busy listening

What: “Yeah I’m listening, I’m just doing the dishes at the same time.” Maybe, just maybe you in the 2% of people on the planet that studies show can actually multi-task effectively.  But, if you’re in the other 98% of us, multi-tasking actually does more harm than good.

A Harvard Business Review study found thatmultitasking leads to as much as a 40% drop in productivity, increased stress, and a 10% drop in our IQ (Bergman, 2010). So what you’re busily doing (unless it is a mundane task that required very little cognitive attention) and who you’re ‘listening’ to both have only part of your genius.

Why: We’ve all done it! It’s hard not to with the deadlines, pressures and the lists that sit on our desks. Amidst all these pressures it can be hard to even get a moment to gauge whether this conversation or the task at hand will require more of your cognitive ability and to either continue with both, or prioritise one over the other, and communicate openly.

An alternative: If you notice that you are splitting your attentional-focus, take a moment to checkin. Can I effectively give this person the attention this conversation requires, or is this task drawing me away.

Decide, whether to continue with the call or if you do need to prioritise one over the other.

Choose which to prioritise. On the quadrant of importance vs urgency, which is more important to give yourself to right now?

Communicate openly. Let the other person know that ‘I can sense this is an important conversation, and I’d love to make sure I can be fully present with it. I do just need to get these emails out now, but is it ok if I give you a call back in 15 minutes so we can have this conversation then?”

Give it a go!

3. Auto-pilot listening

What: “Yep, cool, uh huh, oh nice, mm hmmm.” How obvious is it when someone is doing this to you? I mean, it can be nice sometimes if you just want a wall to talk to, to bounce ideas off, but it is also nice when ideas come back.

Why: Most likely because we are busy-listening 😉 Our attentional-focus is prioritising our task at hand, over this conversation.

An alternative: What a perfect opportunity to notice we’re in auto-pilot mode, and to checkin with what is a priority and communicate openly.

Moving beyond hearing, to listening and eventually to connecting is a full-bodied practice infused with awareness, an understanding of values and compassionate communication.

What stood out to you most in this piece? What is something that you would like to practice a little more consciously in the way you navigate conversations and the beautiful spaces-between?

I’d love to hear what resonated and felt most useful for you. Leave a comment, or email me at al@aljeffery.com

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