By Tasha M. Troy
Not long ago, I sat down with a friend for lunch. As we were catching up, I began to feel like I was being interrogated rather than participating in a conversation. I’m not saying my friend was intrusively firing questions at me; she was friendly and cheerful as she asked me about the various situations I’ve been facing. She was even asking some good open-ended questions. However, I ended up leaving the conversation feeling like I hadn’t actually been heard.
Not All Listening Is Equal
I suspect most people understand what it takes to show interest in others – remember what is important to the other person and ask open-ended questions – yet we still fail to connect on the deeper levels that each person craves. How is it that my friend did everything she was supposed to do and still left me feeling unheard?
Mark Goulston and John Ullmen introduce four levels of listening in their book Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing, Gain without Giving In. The first two levels are generally negative and should not be used if at all possible – avoidance (distracted) listening and defensive (reactive) listening.
Why the “Shopping List” Approach Doesn’t Really Work
The third level, problem-solving listening, is very practical and often effective when facts and reason are paramount. However, according to Goulston and Ullmen, “Level 3 listening, especially when matters are complex or emotionally charged, leaves too much room for misunderstanding.”
As I pondered the experience with my friend, I realized that this was the level that she had engaged in. Her questions had me focusing on the facts of my circumstances, not the deeper meaning I am deriving from them or how I feel about them. To an extent, it felt as though she were working her way down a list of topics she had to cover and was less interested in actually hearing what I had to say about the topics. I have to wonder how often I, too, take this approach in relationships – more often than is good, I suspect.
Going to the Next Level in Relationships
The highest level of listening, Level 4, is called “connective listening.” This is listening to understand and build rapport; your interest at this level is not even in solving a problem but to get underneath the surface of what the person is sharing. According to Goulston and Ullmen, “It’s listening without an agenda, because you’re not focused on responding or even on helping.” Only after fully understanding the situation can solutions be explored.
Listening to another person at this level is a powerful way to build a relationship. Whether someone is simply sharing an experience or is venting, responding by asking for more information affirms the speaker and shows your concern for their feelings. It allows them to release all the negative emotions associated with the situation, and consequently they become better able to listen to you in return, further strengthening the relationship.
Take It Deeper
I believe that connective listening is a powerful tool. How much suffering can we alleviate simply by listening with open ears and open hearts to those around us? Who can you practice connective listening with today?
Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I hold free exploratory coaching sessions each week. You can register online at Troy Communications or email me to schedule an appointment at TMTroy@TroyCommunications.Net
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