The Art of Listening

This morning I woke up at 5am. The sun was just waking up, too, as were the birds outside my door. As I took my black Lab, Danny Boy, for a walk, I heard a male cardinal calling from a dogwood tree. Was he calling to his mate to wake her up? Was he notifying the other male cardinals in the neighborhood to stay away from his turf?

Our ears let us hear the sounds that surround us, but listening – and more importantly – understanding comes from within. Hearing isn’t enough; listening involves our thought processes, interpretations, and judgments. In order to truly understand and communicate effectively, we have to analyze what we’re hearing and respond. The art of listening, and all that it involves, is where communication and understanding often part company.

In early civilization, we learned by listening, watching, and doing. Reciting oral histories and sharing legends were critical to passing down values and important life lessons. Even more important was the impact of the spoken word, and therefore listening, in building relationships.

While we still do those things today, technology has certainly impacted our ability to listen. We text or email more than ever, rather than picking up the phone and calling someone or talking with them face to face. In those text or email exchanges, we don’t have access to the person’s tone of voice or body language, creating room for interpretations and assumptions that muddle the message.

When we consider the four primary factors of the Predictive Index® (A = Dominance; B = Extraversion; C = Patience; D = Formality), one factor stands out as an influencer of our natural tendency to listen. While the C factor is described as the drive for consistency and stability, it can also influence the pace at which we prefer to do things (make decisions, connect with people, take action, speak).

People with Higher C Factors tend to have the ability to focus on a single subject for extended time periods – an ability that is critical to effective listening. They may take their time before they respond to your question, especially if their B Factor (Extraversion) is on the low side, and only then will they respond.

People with Lower C Factors tend to be more impatient, intense, and fast-paced. They may listen until they believe they have heard enough, and then interrupt in order to respond with their opinions, views, or advice. Their eagerness to engage or provide a solution outweighs their focus on listening to what you are saying to them.

While those may be our natural drives and tendencies, we can learn when they serve us and when they don’t. We can then choose to modify our approach. Viktor Frankl’s quote applies here quite well, Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Knowing our natural responses and choosing how and when to apply them is where good leaders become exceptional leaders.

Two great tools for your own personal development, including the area of listening, are the PI Personal Development Chart and the PI Manager Development Chart. These charts will help you identify your natural styles – where there are strengths, where there are challenges, and how you may want to consider modifying your style if those challenges are arising.

Especially in the challenging times we’re experiencing today, being mindful of the impact of your behavior, actions, and words on others requires tapping into your emotional intelligence and being fully present. Listening is a big part of that.

When leaders listen without judgment, they build trust. Through empathetic listening they can learn from others and embrace different styles and approaches. So much more information can be derived from paying attention to more than just the words people say; tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions offer deeper insights on their own. Using the non-verbal techniques of nods, smiles, leaning in, and eye contact add to your executive presence and authenticity.

As the leader, your people are aware of your engagement in conversations. If you appear disconnected, you may be perceived as disinterested or not listening. With practice, even the lowest C’s among us can learn the art of listening and strengthen our business and personal relationships.

Return to News