Tip of the Month – What Did You Say?

November 5, 2010

Conflict exists when interdependent parties believe that their needs, goals or ideas are incompatible or not being met. Becoming self-aware of how you handle conflict begins your journey toward self-mastery.  With self-mastery, you can use established principles to guide your behavior. You will learn to separate people from the problem. One objective in self-mastery is becoming an effective listener; the six levels of listening range from passive listening, which is hardly listening at all, to empathic listening, which is listening with your ears, mind, eyes and heart. Using Van Slyke’s (1999) concept, this month’s tip surrounds self-identifying what type of listener you are:

  1. Passive listening— the other person’s words are little more than a hum in your ear. You might hear a few words and phrases, but you miss the bulk of the message. Despite obvious problems, everyone occasionally listens at this lowest level.  Example: a conversation in the background at work.
  2. Responsive or pretend listening — this is the same as the passive listening level, with the addition of occasional verbal encouragement, such as “Uh-huh,” or “I see.” Nonverbal responses such as a smile or nod occur at this level. Unfortunately, these responses are not coupled with actual attention. Example: a conversation between partners while one reads a newspaper or is watching TV.
  3. Selective listening — in the first two levels of listening you use only your ears, but at level three you begin to use your intellect. You listen selectively for key words or phrases that support your points. Selective listening is used to argue and debate. Instead of listening to the speaker, you are planning your next words. You are either interrupting to make your point or sitting there half-asleep. The danger is that you never learn enough about the speaker’s wants or needs, so your responses are based only on your needs. Example:  a conversation during a budget or strategy meeting.
  4. Attentive listening— this takes selective listening one step further. You still listen with your intellect for key points, but you don’t interrupt. You show you are listening with silence and eye contact. You ask leading questions to guide the information the speaker is providing. Attentive listening concentrates on facts and data, not emotional content. The majority of our everyday listening occurs at these first four levels.  Example: a conversation of a supervisor with an employee during a feedback session.
  5. Active listening— this is the first level in which you try to understand the meaning behind the message. Listen with your eyes by noting gestures, facial expressions, posture and demeanor. Use reflective responses to communicate. Questions such as, “This is what I’m hearing you say. Do I understand the situation correctly?” Allow the speaker to maintain control of the conversation. The only downside is that although active listening allows you to accept the message, it does not require you to understand the messenger.  Example:  a conversation of a therapist during a counseling session.
  6. Empathic listening— this highest level of listening addresses the need to understand the other person’s frame of reference. Suspend your reality. Immerse yourself in the speaker’s reality. Listen with your ears, mind, eyes and heart to become aware of the speaker’s feelings and emotions. You literally “get your (whole) head in the game”.  Empathic listening requires a change in attitude toward the person, to accept them as valuable and likable.  Example: conversation between two friends where one is trying to console the other over a loss.

Your challenge this month is to get engaged and start to really listen to your colleagues and those around you.  You may be surprised by what you haven’t heard lately!

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