The Chinese character for the verb “to listen” tells us something significant about this skill. It identifies 6 active elements of listening:
- You – in your entirety or maximum attention
- Eyes – as many as possible
- One or a single undivided attention
- the heart
- the ear
- thinking like a king
To listen actively will mean employing all 6 elements in equal measure – not merely one as we traditionally think, our ears. This clearly distinguishes the difference between listening and just hearing and it sums up the problems I experience in the workplace on a regular basis.
To move from hearing to active listening, we need to overcome 12 blockages. You are bound to have noticed one or two of them in your everyday professional lives, if not more. Are you guilty of any yourself? These can be overcome. Are you:
- COMPARING: do you instantly retort with “mine is better/worse/the same as yours” This sort of retort puts a stop to compassion and empathy – it’s a competitive situation and it instantly stops real listening, ie getting to the root of what they are trying to tell you. You are not employing your heart in the listening process;
- MIND READING: if you constantly draw conclusions based on vague misgivings, hunches, or projections, before someone has finished relating their story. You will be more concerned about your own feelings than theirs. This again stops empathy and true understanding. You are not giving your undivided attention;
- REHEARSING: Are they looking interested whilst you are busy rehearsing your responses to their words. They have a point to make, a story to tell, or an objection to make clear, yet they are having to spend their time preparing to rebut, defend or manoeuvre your ideas instead. You are not employing your eyes;
- FILTERING: the object here is to avoid problems. If you avoid anger or are afraid of it, you will particularly pick up on “angry” signs. If you perceive none, then your mind might wander. You will find yourself listening enough to see if a particular problem is coming and if it isn’t, then you fog out. You are not thinking like a king;
- JUDGING: Almost everyone’s favourite this one! Quick judgements based on prejudices or opinion allow us to write someone or something off as stupid, uninformed, or whatever. Judgment is best done after knowing all the facts or knowing the background. You are not employing your ears properly;
- DREAMING: Words trigger own private thoughts and associations and sometimes you or another find themselves floating off into that associated world. By the time another trigger brings you back to the present, everyone is talking about something else You are not giving your full and undivided attention;
- IDENTIFYING: things others are saying triggers your own experience about a similar incident and if unrestrained, you launch happily into your own story about you (or you find yourself in the company of someone else who does this regularly). You are not employing your heart properly towards their issues;
- ADVISING: Whilst you are busy giving great advice about this or that, you are missing their points and don’t acknowledge the full situation. You are alone in your joy or pain of the advice at that point. You are not employing your eyes to focus on their issues;
- SPARRING: this often starts with looking for things to disagree with. It continues with put-downs and discounts, e.g. “are you still doing that?” “you don’t know what you are talking about” or more subtle versions and it always ends badly. You are not employing your heart and neither are you thinking like a king;
- BEING RIGHT: low self esteem can often mean you or someone else has trouble with criticism or corrections so you or they go to great lengths in order to be “right”. It can manifest with over-riding others with a loud voice, insults, twisting facts, or with rigidity with other tactics. You are not employing your undivided attention;
- DERAILING: two fast ways to derail someone include: an abrupt change of subject when you or another is getting uncomfortable or bored; or joking it off – nothing is serious about the issue. You are not employing your heart to their issues;
- PLACATING: of course; yes really; terrific; incredible; right; wow. This shows you or another wants to be liked in this relationship and agrees with almost everything. Test it by feeding them mush and see what happens! You are neither employing your ears nor thinking like a king!
If you reframe your understanding of listening along the lines of the 6 core elements which the Chinese consider profound, then it all becomes crystal clear when you, or others are really listening doesn’t it? Test it out for yourself and let me know if or how it changes your thinking.