Hearing, listening or understanding?

Written by
Changeboard Team

09 Feb 2015

09 Feb 2015 • by Changeboard Team

Why do we feel disconnected from others?

Finally he understands me! And for he please insert the appropriate word, whether that is boss, PA, husband, teenage son, or for that matter wife or daughter. Many people go through their days feeling others don’t really understand them, see them, or comprehend where they are coming from. 

As a result we often feel disconnected from the people we spend a lot of time with. Why is it that we can talk to people for hours and not feel heard, understood or connected? The answer really lies in the way we have been trained to communicate. Think about a conversation you’ve had recently. Can you say you were really listening to the other person? Did you pick up on the tone, body language and subtle nuance of their communication? Could you tell what they were thinking or feeling? Were you able to sense anything even deeper than that?

Unfortunately, the vast majority of us never really listen when someone else is talking. What we are actually doing is thinking or preparing our own response. Communication for most people is a combination of talking and waiting to speak. We are trained transmitters; it’s what we were taught as children, and we’ve become very good at it as adults. Very few of us listen well. In fact, when asked to define communication most people would equate it with the quality of their transmission - “I’ve communicated when I have told them what I wanted”. But have they really communicated? They may have been told but did they listen? Did they hear? Did they understand? 

Do you really listen to others?

It is clear from the number of miscommunications, misunderstandings and misinterpretations that occur in our relationships, that our listening skills are poor. We often miss the critical information being relayed. If we have been on an active listening programme we may have been taught to concentrate on the words people use, but this is only approximately 7% of the message.

Even if we manage to detect the accompanying tone and body language we still don’t have all the data. Tone, words and body language can be considered to be level one communication. Beneath this surface lie the thoughts and feelings behind the tone, words and body language.

If you are able to detect this data then you are listening at a deeper level two. The most valuable part of communication, however, occurs at the even deeper level three. This is where the meaning of what has been communicated exists. What is meant is often very different from what is said. If you develop the ability to detect data at level three then it can be a game changer for your relationships and your career. But how do you do it? This is where the M-A-P skill comes in. MAP is an acronym for a three-step process.

The three steps of MAP

The first step is that you must stop listening to your own internal noise and tune in more deeply to the person transmitting to you. So rather than chasing your own thoughts or preconceived ideas or judgements. The instant the other person starts talking, Move your attention away from the noise in your head and drop it into your body. Or more specifically the centre of your chest – the area around your heart.  

Step two is the killer step. It requires you to activate a state of Appreciation. If you generate a warm feeling of appreciation in your body and radiate it out towards the speaker they should be able to detect it. This non-judgmental positive regard will often settle the speaker down, make them feel more comfortable and two very interesting things will often occur. The speaker will open up and reveal more information and, because they don’t feel threatened, they will often deliver their message better. In addition to changing the transmitter, it also step-changes the quality of your reception.

It does this because you change your physiology. Your biology shifts from a state of mild chaos, with an erratically fluctuating heart rate, to a more coherent state with a dynamically stable heart rate. This reduces the internal noise in your system so the incoming signal (the transmitter’s message) to your noise (your own biology) ratio changes. And it is this change in the signal to noise ratio that enables you to detect the information at level three.

Once the speaker has stopped talking, you should take step three, Playback what the speaker meant, to check that you have completely understood what they were saying. This is done in terms of what you sensed at the deeper level and NOT as a statement or assertion of fact. 

How to avoid being a bad listener

These three simple steps, if followed correctly, can have a huge positive impact on the effectiveness of your interactions. On the other hand, bad listening skills can be catastrophic.

An example of this comes from a conversation with a leader from a sports coaching company. A recent conversation with one of his athletes went like this:

“Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be arriving at Heathrow at 3pm today and I need to ensure there is a taxi tomorrow morning at 8am, to take me back to the airport, making sure I get my next flight to Copenhagen to start the practice rounds.”   

The leader asked what deeper meaning there could possibly be in that conversation. On the face of it, it does seem like a rudimentary conversation. Applying the MAP skill revealed to the manager that beneath the surface of the flight times, what the individual was really saying, at level three, was:

“Take care of me.”

In fact what he was saying, at level four, was:

“Currently you’re not taking care of me and in fact you are taking better care of other people than you are of me and I’m upset about this. This is bad management and if this doesn’t change I might quit.”

The manager did not pick up this underlying message, therefore it was no surprise that it was all over the sports pages that the individual had threatened to quit. It then took months for the manager to recover the relationship. The manager could have saved a lot of time, money and energy had he listened to the client and MAPped him.

The next time you find yourself having what seems like a rudimentary conversation, try it and see what happens. Be prepared to spook your colleagues with how much you can really tell about what is going on, by simply listening at a much deeper level.