What habits are you hardwiring each day? This blog series shares research-based ideas about habits worth your attention so you can be more effective, feel happier and live your best life.

As socially wired human beings, we perform best when we feel secure and that we belong to our core groups: our family, peer groups and workplaces for example. In these current times of prolonged uncertainty and societal change, it’s hugely important that we know how to create experiences of safety and belonging for those in our personal and professional communities. A key way to do this is to listen better.

Common listening pitfalls:

1. We listen to our own thoughts: Our brain is constantly making new connections and trying to predict what will happen next, including what people are going to say and what our best response should be. Many of us are focusing on our own internal thinking, and not actually listening at all.

2. Listening takes effort: Listening to people talk at length, without engaging others in meaningful ways, is frustrating and cognitively exhausting. Our brain will disengage and start thinking about what to cook for dinner, or something easier, instead of the speaker. Listening takes focus and effort.

3. We are listening for something: Our brains are excellent filtering devices because of the amount of data constantly being received, mostly non-consciously. Do you listen for an opportunity to jump in with a solution? Or to demonstrate your experience, or to point out what is missing? Listening in this filtered way, limits what we actually hear, and more importantly, it limits where the conversation could go.

“To listen is to pay attention to. Listening means stepping outside one’s own interests,
to actually want to know more, and to care what others’ interests are.” (HBR, 2018)

Better ways to listen:

1. Listen for what isn’t being said
Try this experiment: When listening, focus on picking up what the other person might mean or feel. Be curious and care about what motivates a person. Demonstrating that you are trying to understand what a person really means, is a very powerful way to deepen trust and rapport.

2. Limit other distractions
Help yourself to focus on listening by removing distractions. Silence other devices, avoid having side chats and multi-tasking. Take notes during a meeting or conversation to help you keep track of information shared. After all, we never know when we may be called upon!

3. Ask useful questions
Ask open-ended non-leading questions to help the other person reflect, think, and make new connections – helping you understand their perspective better. It also helps you check for understanding, keeping you both engaged and on the same page.

In our next blog, we will look at ways to improve our focus as we work through each day.

* Merchant, Nilofer, ‘To Change Someone’s Mind, Stop Talking and Listen’ HBR, February 06, 2018