How often do you feel that you are actually heard? Don’t count the times that someone merely nods and acknowledges that what you’re saying has gone into their ears. Only the times that you are genuinely heard and understood. I would bet less often than you think.I have discovered a previously unknown condition that occurs between the ear and the brain. I call it the Myopic Envelope, or ME for short. It’s a cavern where what enters the ear exits as something completely different, generally self-oriented and egotistic to the listener. It is this gap that creates a lack of understanding and empathy, gets in the way of what’s really important, and derails relationships – whether at work, home, or play.
The causes of ME are largely undocumented, yet widely known (which is probably why they are undocumented). It’s no fault of the listener, only a natural state of human development in our society. In essence, the listener is guilty, but not to blame.
So what about those that don’t have this gap in their heads? What do they have that others don’t? How did they find a solution to this condition?
From personal experience, I can tell you it takes work. Becoming a good listener, or should I say a good “hearer,” requires a change in the way we think, orient ourselves, and see our dialogue with others. Not only do we need to listen differently, we need to speak differently.
In their Harvard Business Review post, For Real Influence, Listen Past Your Blind Spots, Mark Goulston and John Ullmen provide a framework for listening that I wish I had when I started on my still-ongoing journey of hearing and understanding. It outlines the four levels of listening – the first three of which help to create ME and the fourth offering the solution.
Level One: Avoidance Listening = Listening Over
Listeners who listen over others are the people who say, “Uh huh,” while clearly showing no interest in what the other person is saying.
Level Two: Defensive Listening = Listening At
This is listening with your defenses up, preparing your counterpoints while the person is talking. It’s being quick to react and slow to consider.
Level Three: Problem-Solving Listening = Listening To
This is listening in order to accomplish things… If people want your solutions, this is the right approach. But people will feel frustrated, misunderstood and even resentful if you presume to offer “fixes” they don’t want or need.
Level Four: Connective Listening = Listening Into
This is listening of the highest order, and it’s the human listening that all of us crave. It’s listening into other people to discover what’s going on inside them. It’s listening on their terms, not yours. It’s understanding where people are coming from to establish genuine rapport.
Establish genuine rapport. Now that’s authentic.
So how do we “listen into”? How do we discover what’s going on inside the other person? How do we gain perspective and understand?
There are countless ways to do so and I’d like to offer you one that you can use both at work and at home. I recently picked up Visual Meetings by David Sibbet and was inspired by an exercise he calls Peak & Valley Drawing. In it, you are asked to graphically illustrate the flow of your career and share that story with a co-worker. I would suggest here that the same simple steps can also be taken outside of the context of work. Rather than illustrating a career path, you can illustrate the peaks and valleys of your life story.
Slightly modified from Sibbet’s four step, career-oriented process, here’s how it works in five simple steps:
- Choose an area of your life on which you would like to focus (e.g. your career, your entire life, your relationships).
- Draw a line across a piece of paper and mark the years over a time period of your choosing (e.g. a year, a decade, your career, your life).
- Using your intuition, begin at the start of your chosen time period and draw the ups and downs in the area on which you’re focusing (as chosen in Step 1). Remember, use your intuition. Don’t think about it too much.
- Go back and label the peaks and valleys.
- Share this with a partner, or a group, and discuss your insights.
Did you see any patterns? What’s your narrative? Do particular stories come to mind?
I actually did this exercise on my own and gained some interesting personal insights into my career. I can only imagine how powerful it can be when sharing it with someone, or a group of people.
David Sibbet puts it best when he says…
I was always fascinated by how the simple shift in perspective from a linear story to the peak and valley story is what sparked these insights.