Focus your Listening Lens™: What prevents me from being an empathetic listener?

Nicole Lowenbraun

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Nicole Lowenbraun

As an executive speaker coach, when I ask a client, “What’s stopping you from being the best speaker you can be?” the answers usually come freely and quickly.

I hear things like, “I get nervous in front of large crowds,” or, “I know I say ‘um’ and ‘uh’ too much,” or, “I need to work on connecting with my audience, both virtually and in-person.” Most people are aware of the things that stand in their way of becoming an engaging and charismatic speaker.

But rarely, if ever, do people think about being an engaging listener. If I asked those same clients, “What’s stopping you from being the best listener you can be?” the answers might not come as readily. Sure, some responses might reference distractions.

For example, “I’m constantly getting pinged during meetings, making it hard for me to focus,” or “I work from home and have a hard time listening when my partner or children are around.” These are valid concerns. Distractions certainly get in the way of fully-engaged listening.

But let’s suppose for a moment that all distractions were eliminated. Let’s say, as a listener, you were free and clear of background noise and avoided multitasking. Would you be a good listener?

Most of you probably haven’t considered this question, but it’s an important one, because we spend 55% of our workday listening. Managers spend even more time listening—about 63% of their workday (Source: Owen Hargie, Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 177.). With so much of our day focused on this communication power skill, it’s worth taking inventory on how you listen—and what’s preventing you from becoming a good listener.

Analyze Your Listening LENS™

There’s a simple formula you can use to take inventory on the things standing in your way of listening. It’s what we call your Listening LENS, which stands for: Listener. Environment. News. Speaker.

Just like a filter on a camera lens can alter the way a photograph looks, each of these four components can filter or cloud the way you listen. Before entering your next listening interaction, check your Listening LENS and determine what might be standing in your way from being the best listener you can be.

Listener LENS™

The Listener part of your Listening LENS is all about you, the Listener. Whether intentional or not, the mood you bring into a listening situation can impact your ability to focus on your communication partner. Are you sleep deprived? Are you anxious? Are you overwhelmed with work? When you’re preoccupied with your own personal current reality, it’s difficult to give another person what they need.

Environment LENS™

The Environment part of your Listening LENS is about the setting surrounding the communication interaction. Some people have an easier time listening when they’re communicating in person. Since that’s not always possible these days, many are forced to listen remotely, and that can be challenging. When they’re more inconspicuous, some listeners are more easily distracted.

News LENS™

The News part of your Listening LENS is about the information you’re hearing. We tend to listen more attentively and sharply when the news we’re receiving is relevant to us. We are simply less likely to listen attentively to something that doesn’t seem important to us, our jobs, or our teams. However, if we recognize the information as something that will directly impact us, we are more likely to listen deeply. But that doesn’t mean you can tune out the news the speaker is sharing with you.

Speaker LENS™

The Speaker part of your Listening LENS is the way you feel about the person you’re speaking to. For this LENS, consider the role of the person you’re speaking with in relation to yours. We might listen to a senior leader differently than we listen to a peer or a direct report. We might listen differently to a customer or vendor than we do our internal colleagues. For some, the listening becomes more intentional depending on the role of the speaker. For others, nerves or familiarity might cloud the Speaker LENS.

You have the opportunity to hone your listening skills if you analyze your Listening LENS before you enter your communication interactions. Ask yourself, “What might prevent me from being a speaker-focused listener in this engagement?” Take inventory of each LENS component. The more aware you become of the barriers that stand in your way, the more empathetic you’ll be to the person speaking.

To learn more about your Listening LENS and how to address, explore our new Adaptive Listening™ virtual workshop.

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