In this quiet month of August, it’s a good time to reconsider the art and practice of listening. Let’s kick it off with a proposal to update the phrase “Active Listening” to “Deep Listening” or listening to understand. This differs from the transactional way we too often listen when, rather than hearing what a person actually means to say, we add our own meaning to what we think they mean to say.
Remember the exercise often used in communication skills training when one person speaks for 2 minutes and the other listens without speaking. They’re then asked to report on their experience as the person listened to or the person listening. The first time I did this exercise, I was amazed at the direction the speaker took. I was sure I would have altered that direction had I commented or asked questions. I learned something I would not have learned had I interjected during that few minutes and they reported feeling listened to.
As a coach, we learn to both stay curious about what we’re hearing but not formulate questions or direction as our client is speaking. What’s cool about this is that we not only learn from the person speaking but they are learning too and revealing directions we can then help them see and follow.
“Active Listening” is so important that this is the reason I propose a rephrase. The phrase has become so overused that often people who must communicate well for their jobs know what they are supposed to do and many believe they already do it. If we talk about listening differently, it can help people reconsider what it means to listen to understand and help those who need to be understood feel listened to.