It’s a week since I watched the BBC’s debate on the Southern Rail strike action. Hosted by Jo Coburn, it brought together Mike Lynch of the RMT (The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) and Charles Horton of GTR (Govia Thameslink Railway). Standing side by side you could feel the tension between them. Months of negotiations, stalemate, disruption and public disdain hung over them like a cloak of animosity.
As the debate progressed and the tension built Jo Coburn asked, in my view, the most pertinent question of the whole event…
“Are you listening to each other?!”
ABCommuters captured it on Twitter…
— #SOUTHERNFAIL (@ABCommuters) January 9, 2017
Bingo! Of course they weren’t listening to each other. Hearing, yes. Half listening, yes. But really listening, most definitely, NO!
According to Gill Hasson in her book Brilliant Communication Skills…
Hearing is a passive process. We receive sound which, without assigning any meaning, is in essence just noise. Remember Charlie Brown’s teacher?
Ever felt like that?
On the other hand, Listening is a more active process which requires us “to pay attention, interpret and derive meaning from the messages we see and hear“.
In reality, when faced with conflict, power struggles and entrenched positions, listening may be a step up from hearing but it is still not enough. Unfortunately, in these situations emotions, politics and egos mean our default setting tends to fluctuate between hearing and half-listening. All of which can lead to:
- More misunderstanding
- Missed opportunities to move forward
- Misguided mindsets
The solution used by trainers, counsellors, coaches and mentors is to employ Active Listening. A technique which enables us to…
- really engage with the speaker
- concentrate on what is being said
- dig deeper to increase shared understanding
Plus the added personal bonus is it helps reduce boredom and improves negotiating and influencing skills.
Not everyone finds themselves round the negotiating table in highly charged, extremely public Southern Rail type situations. Everyone, however, can benefit from adopting active listening as their new default setting.
Here are 10 top tips for improving active listening skills
- Be present, relaxed and attentive (mobile devices away and on silent!)
- Actively try to keep an open mind
- Engage all the senses
- Acknowledge you are listening e.g. facial expressions and nods
- Reflect the speaker’s feelings e.g. ‘I can see this is affecting you…’
- Occasionally summarise or re-state what has been said
- When appropriate, ask questions to clarify meaning and improve understanding
- Try to listen without judging
- Attempt to empathise with the speaker
Best place to start practicing active listening is during everyday conversations with friends or family. Practicing skills while relaxing; now that sounds like a plan 🙂
In the end, not every situation will result in people becoming best buddies. Through active listening we can…
- build rapport and empathy
- acknowledge the views of others
- find common ground
- identify mutually beneficial solutions to problems
And that is most definitely worthwhile.