Listening seems relatively easy, doesn’t it? In reality though, to truly listen is an art – one that is practiced by too few of us.
If you are really honest with yourself, you will realise that while “listening” to other people talk, you are mostly preoccupied with your inner voice. Whether it’s recalling similar incidents in your own life, wondering what to say next, or simply debating where you want to go for lunch, your inner voice tends to be a non-stop chatterbox. Technically, you are hearing the other person speak, but your mind is largely focused on your own self – your opinions, your judgements, your responses. Obviously, this takes your attention away from what the other person is saying. You are likely to miss important information or the deeper message behind their words.
Knowing this, is it any surprise that so many relationships – personal and professional – are derailed due to miscommunication? For leaders, especially, listening is an indispensable skill. It is only by really hearing your team members that you can connect with them, solve problems, and offer meaningful support. Listening merely at a superficial level blocks true understanding; creating a cloudy, inaccurate picture of people’s motivations and issues. Worse, it makes you prone to passing snap judgements that can then take a long time to correct.
Make no mistake, people are highly attuned to whether you are actually listening to them or not. We all have that one relative who inevitably interrupts other people while they’re talking. Or a colleague who looks at their phone constantly during a conversation. Or a friend who completely misses the point of your stories. How does that make you feel? Do you feel heard, valued, respected? Would you call that person a good listener or a true friend? Indeed, the easiest way to make someone think they don’t matter to you is to not listen to them with care and attention.
So, this week, my message focuses on listening with TING in order to communicate more authentically and build stronger relationships. The ancient Chinese symbol for listening, “TING”, offers a wonderful way to approach the art of listening deeply and empathetically.
TING, which dates back thousands of years, reflects the six essential components of listening:
1. The ears: to hear the words the other person is speaking
This is the first and most basic step of the listening process – to fully hear what is being said to you. Don’t interrupt or begin to respond before the other person has completed. Just listen.
2. The mind: to interpret the words
Your brain interprets the speaker’s message. This means you need to quiet that inner voice and let your mind focus on the conversation at hand. Have you ever found yourself thinking “oh, that’s what she meant!” hours after a conversation? That’s a classic example of your brain being distracted and thus unable to process the full meaning of what it is hearing. Try to tune out your incessant inner broadcaster and clear your mind to receive and interpret the words of the other person.
3. The eyes: to read non-verbal signals
Forget about multitasking: put away your phone, tear your eyes away from the laptop screen, and look straight at the talker. Observe their body language and facial expressions – are they in sync with their words? Or is the person trying to communicate an unspoken message to you? For instance, your team member might assure you that a project is on track but if you pay attention, their face could tell you another story – they might be overworked, confused, panicked. By picking up on these non-verbal signals, you can probe further, identify the problem, and help to solve it – before it’s too late.
4. The heart: to listen wholeheartedly and to feel what the person needs
Words and body language are not the only factors at play – feelings are just as important. To “listen with your heart” sounds corny, but doing so gives you a whole new level of access into the other person’s situation. You know that friend who always knows when something is wrong, even if you put on a brave front and no-one else has a clue? Listening with your heart allows you to know what the other person really needs, be it a morale boost, compassion, or reassurance.
5. Undivided attention: to give the other person your 100% focus
This is excellent advice, whether you are conversing with colleagues, friends, or family. One way of demonstrating this focus is by maintaining eye contact. This is tough at first, especially now that we are so used to falling back on our gadgets every few seconds. But it becomes easier with practice, and you are sure to appreciate the payoff. With eye contact comes a deeper connection and level of understanding. Whether it’s picking up on tone and body language, or reading between the lines, you will definitely notice your listening skills sharpen.
6. King/Queen: to treat the other person like royalty while listening to them
Do you know what some of the most inspiring leaders in the world have in common? No matter who they’re in conversation with, be it a doorman or a company vice-president, the other person feels important and valued. The TING approach tells you to listen to the speaker as though they are your queen/king.
Using these six elements, you can engage fully in listening. In Mastering Ting: The Ancient Chinese Listening Secret, EléaFaucheron explains that listening with TING makes you a “universal listener”:
The universal listener takes the whole picture in at once…. You tap into the underlying mood, tone, and impact of the words within the conversation….you’ll feel like a top secret agent navigating your way through enemy territory. You’re totally tuned in by using all 6 elements: ears, mind, body, eyes, undivided attention & heart. And you will have amazing insights into the conversation you never thought possible.
As human beings, to be heard is one of the greatest gifts we can receive and give.
By listening with TING, you turn the focus away from yourself, and towards the other person. You demonstrate that the other person matters to you, that you are willing to put aside your own concerns for a while and give them your full, undivided attention.
As we begin a new year, I hope that more of us will resolve to listen better – both at home and at work. Remember that one of the core values of the Godrej Way is to “Show Respect”. As a leader, if you want the commitment of your team members and want them to feel more valued and engaged, it is important stop simply hearing and start truly listening.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts.