“When the eyes say one thing, and the tongue another, a practiced man relies on the language of the first.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson
In recent years, technology has brought in a big change in our ways of communication. With the best tech devices and the most vibrant social media platforms around us, there is so much to watch and listen to. Still, we have all been in situations where our own internal dialogue prevented us from giving full attention to a speaker. So the question is, are we really listening?
Effective listening is not just about hearing what is said but also taking note of things that are left unsaid. Listening to another person may sound like a simple act, but hearing is not the same thing as listening. Deep listening is not just about listening using the ears, but also listening with our emotions and the entire body. Let’s explore what that means.
It is often mentioned that only 7 percent of human communication is verbal. In truth, the exact percentage is not so conclusive. The non-verbal portion of a speech can range from anywhere between 65 to 93 percent.
So spoken language is just one of the many ways by which we communicate. In order to understand the whole picture and listen well, we need to listen and explore beyond the spoken words. Quite often, tone of voice, postures, and gestures tell a different story than the one the spoken words are telling. However, most people tend to ignore various body-language signals. Hell, it is even difficult to focus on people’s words in this age of distraction.
Strong communication and listening is the foundation of any personal or professional relationship. So it is high time that we pay attention to the nonverbal cues, and learn to listen to what is not being said.
How to Listen to What Is Not Being Said?
“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” – Andy Stanley
Many famous leaders and personalities from the past were great listeners. One example is Sigmund Freud. His manner of listening was by giving complete attention to the speaker while keeping his gaze and words mild and cordial. The level of attention that he offered to the speaker, made them feel special.
To understand the true scenario of any given situation, active listening is a must. This also holds true for any business establishment. Listening to your customers is essential for formulating a successful strategy and making the right decisions. In this article, I will share 3 steps we can all take to listen beyond the spoken word (the emotions, wants, and desires of the speaker), and to what is not being said.
Step 1 – Clear Your Mind
We all have our own internal voice which is on all the time, giving us a running commentary about events happening in real-time. It is very difficult to listen to anyone else when you are immersed in your own world of thoughts. Only with a clear and calm mind, you can focus on what the speaker is trying to convey. Therefore, it is important to listen with a clear mind – without any fear, judgments, opinions, etc about the other person.
Take A 5 Minute Silent Break Before Important Meetings
One thing you can do before an important meeting is to take a short break of five minutes in a quiet space to calm your mind and prepare yourself to pay complete attention to the upcoming meeting. Use this time to block out your mental noise and allow the mind to calm down.
If there is something on your mind, it might be a good idea to write that down somewhere to get to it later. This can be very effective to develop the skill of staying focused during the actual conversation.
Thoughts arising in our mind always act as distractions. We simply cannot stop these thoughts and any attempt to do that will eventually tire you out. The important thing is to remain aware of them, but not indulge them any further. This will help you to stay on track when your mind starts to drift.
By taking 5 minutes to prepare your mind and body, you will be ready to pay complete attention to the speaker.
Give Up Your Opinions, Fears, and Judgements
It is important to listen to a speaker with an open mind. To listen beyond the spoken words, listen to what is being said without getting filtered by your own prejudices, beliefs, fears, and anxieties. For that, it is important to give up any opinions, judgments, fear, and insecurities you might have about yourself, the other person, or the relationship.
If you are angry, irritated, or fearful about a person or a situation, it will be difficult to pay attention and listen effectively. For example – do not go into a meeting thinking about how someone is always late, or unreliable, or aggressive.
Once you judge someone, it becomes difficult to comprehend their viewpoint or their motive. By being non-judgemental, you will have a better understanding of the events or circumstances. As a result, you will be able to understand not just their words but also their concerns and desires. This will help you make better decisions.
You may feel like replying or arguing to convince the speaker about your views. However, it is important to focus on the speaker’s world and not on our own reply and concerns. Listening is a skill that not only needs complete attention but also requires letting go of our personal biases, that we all have.
See Things From Their Point Of View
“People may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel”
― Maya Angelou
You have to imagine yourself in the other person’s position to truly understand and feel what they are trying to communicate.
Apart from the literal meaning of the words, pay attention to the emotional content that is being delivered. Keep a close watch on the tone of voice and body language to understand how things look and feel like from their point of view
We often view the world through a lens clouded by our own beliefs and opinions. Empathy requires that you observe the world from someone else’s point of view. Empathetic listening is not easy, but it is a gift that you can offer as a listener to others.
Step 2 – Listen Beyond The Words
To be an effective listener, you need to be a good observer. In fact, body language is a major way through which true feelings and emotions find expression. By reading and interpreting these signs you can use body language to your advantage not only in the workplace but also in your personal life.
Our minds are so prone to distractions that concentrating on the speaker is often difficult. An active listener is present in the moment and watches for subtle changes in the speaker’s body language. Noticing such signs will help you differentiate between what their words are saying, and if they are coherent with what their body is communicating.
Here are some of the signs that you can look out for:
Quite often the spoken words do not match the inner emotions. In such cases, facial expressions can communicate what the speaker is truly feeling.
Human eyes are the best mirrors that reflect the mind. As the saying goes- “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” Here are a few things to watch out for:-
- Wide-open eyes indicate surprise
- Rapid blinking can indicate stress or dishonesty
- Intense eyes usually indicate anger
- When the pupils are dilated it can be due to a feeling of fear or romantic interest
Eyebrows can tell a lot about how the speaker is actually feeling.
- Raised and arched eyebrows indicate surprise
- A frown or eyebrows knit together indicates anger or irritation
- When the inner corners are drawn up it indicates sadness
The mouth can also be a good indicator of emotions apart from the usual happy smile. For example:
- Biting of lips is usually a sign of anxiety
- An open mouth indicates fear while a dropped jaw represents a surprise
- A raised corner of the mouth indicates hate or scorn
- When the corners are drawn, it indicates sadness
The way people position their bodies and move their hands or shoulders can speak a lot about their feelings. By observing gestures, you can understand whether the speaker truly believes what they are saying or not. Do keep in mind that gestures can have different meanings based on cultures and locations. For example:
- Gripping an item, tapping fingers, or adjusting the hair or clothing can indicate tension.
- A clenched jaw and tightened neck muscles usually indicate stress.
- Shaking of legs can indicate anxiety or irritation.
- Hunched shoulders and arms folded tightly indicate anxiety or fear. On the other hand, it can also mean that the person is feeling too cold.
- Curving the shoulders forward with folded arms is a defensive posture. The sudden crossing of arms may indicate discomfort or disengagement.
- A relaxed speaker will have shoulders in a normal position with hands moving freely without jerkiness.
- A pointed finger with the rest of the hand closed is usually a show of power or dominance.
Tone of Voice
A new study has pointed out that listening to the tone of a speaker is often more important for understanding their emotions. For example, even over the phone, we can understand others’ state of mind by their tone of voice. Be it enthusiasm, excitement, or sadness – we can detect all these emotions just from the tone of voice
With practice, we all are capable of detecting the subtle differences between different emotions from tone of voice. You might have noticed that many people tend to ramble when they get excited or agitated. On the other hand, a slow and steady vocal delivery indicates a thoughtful mental state.
Paying attention to the emotions in the voice of a speaker helps you to understand what the person is really feeling. In turn, you will comprehend the message the speaker is trying to deliver more effectively.
Step 3 – Ask Powerful Open-ended Questions
The first important aspect of deep listening is listening attentively without interrupting. The second is to ask open-ended questions with curiosity to understand the speaker’s concerns, ideas, and emotions better. It also helps you to validate what you are understanding. Never assume on behalf of others. Always validate by paraphrasing or asking questions.
Here are some examples of powerful open-ended questions.
- What else would you like to talk about?
- Tell me more about what’s bothering you?
- What’s really going on?
- Can you explain why that matters?
- I noticed some frustration. Did you not like something about what was just said?
- In the meeting, I saw you disinterested and with a strange smirk when we discussed that project? What concerns do you have?
- I could see the surprise and fear on your face. Tell me what worries about this upcoming situation?
Any question that can be answered with a simple “yes,” or “no,” reply is a closed question. Such questions prevent the possibility of continuing communication. Also, closed questions do not provide detailed information.
When we ask open-ended questions, we can understand the thoughts and emotions of the speaker, as they have to think and come up with original answers. Sometimes open-ended questions allow people to think and understand their own concerns and thoughts better.
Remember, while asking open-ended questions, it is best to avoid aggressive questions that can make others defensive. I have observed many managers neglecting this and end up pushing people into a corner.
Benefits of Listening This Way
“To be a great leader you have to be a great listener.”- Richard Branson
Abraham Lincoln was as good a listener as he was a speaker. The 16th President of the United States gave his full attention to every speaker even if their views were different from his own. Many times, he would “lean forward and clasp his left knee with both hands” while listening to others.
So all his visitors returned with a satisfied feeling. They felt that the president was able to understand their feelings, apprehensions, and motivations. In return, he won their trust and respect.
Likewise, a good listener needs to be focused, engaged, and flexible. The fast pace of life and the numerous distractions around us are eroding our listening skills in a big way. Only the leader who can overcome that to become a good listener can bring out the best from their team members.
By listening without trying to critique or convince we can become more empathetic. It can also offer us an insight into the concerns, hopes, and aspirations of others. Deep listening can not only build trust but can lead to better relationships as it makes us alert and sensitive towards others.
Communication goes much beyond spoken words. The tone of voice and other physical expressions play a hidden but big part of communication. When we can listen to others, we move towards creating more meaningful relationships and being more effective at everything we do.