When people choose to listen, there are two types of listening that take place – “listening to” and “listening for.”
“Listening for” is the most common form of listening and means listening is being done for a purpose. Common purposes are affirmation, adulation, communicating politeness and, sometimes, the desire to make a good impression.
“Listening to” is the sort of listening when someone really listens to understand. It involves being willing to having your point of view changed by the views of the other person. This sort of openness necessitates a positive self image, however.
It is impossible to “listen to” someone when you feel insecure (Notice, I say “feel,” not “are” – for the purpose of this discussion, we’re going to deal with the feeling of insecurity). And this has 3 important implications for us as communicators.
First, it is in our interest to make people feel comfortable and secure. This is another way of saying that it is in our interest to be genuinely nice. To really “be” nice, we have to care and have to be prepared to listen ourselves. We have to also learn how to ensure people feel completely secure and at ease about where they stand in our eyes. This means ensuring we don’t take nice things from people around us for granted, this means ensuring we communicate happiness and this means not being an insensitive jerk.
Second, we have to learn to communicate any issues that are blocking us from being truly open. Sometimes, a feeling of doubt or unease about our equation with the person we’re speaking to can act as a communication barrier. Talk about it. Else, it will show.
Third, we have to make it a habit to have the difficult conversation. As leaders, it is important to make the process of giving feedback habitual. No one on your team should feel like it is a big deal if you say something needs improvement. Similarly, in our lives, it is in our best interest to have the difficult conversations and break the peace for a little while. If we want to be able to listen without judgment and communicate without judgment, we need to be open. And, effective communication is all about habitually building environments where openness is welcomed.
Final 2 notes –
1. Notice how any conversation about other people listening to you begins with you being open yourself. Having others listen to you is one of the purest forms of leadership. And leadership requires you to take charge of creating an ideal environment – in this case, that would be an environment of openness.
2. Communication only occurs when people really listen to you. In order for them to listen to you and not just listen for affirmation, you need to ensure you do whatever it takes to create that environment of openness. This will not always work. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, communications will break down. That’s okay – we only control the process, not the results. Let’s nail the process.