Great listeners know how to listen by seeing what people say. That sounds strange, but that is what leads to listening excellence. It is true! Robert Fritz teaches people how to see a conversation as a video. Check out his training. It is extremely valuable for leaders because you begin the critical process of understanding how people think.
While the steps below will not give you all the training you need, they will provide you with the basics for listening excellence where you move to the next level of understanding people. It is Observational Listening.
You may have heard of Active Listening; this moves you to a higher level than that. Use the following six steps and start the process of listening by seeing what people say. The six steps to listening excellence use the acronym LISTEN.
Limit Your Focus to ONLY the Speaker
Listening excellence starts with a clear focus on the speaker. Listening skills happen with your commitment to moving beyond hearing to understanding the speaker. That, of course, takes energy, discipline, and concentration. You let the conversation be about the speaker rather than going down trails that you find interesting.
When you focus on the speaker, it is not some way to make them think you are listening - YOU ARE LISTENING! And you let them know by providing feedback. It is a nod of your head, you acknowledge what they said with a short comment, or you say "uh huh" or some other semi-verbal sound.
If you have difficulty with eye contact, you are not alone. Eye contact is one of the best ways to focus your mind on the words someone speaks. Obviously, be comfortable when you maintain eye contact and don't make it uncomfortable for them. Eye contact is one of the most potent tools for listening because you do not let the surroundings distract you - it is all about the other person.
If you want listening excellence, it will only happen with your deliberate choice! Some additional help can be found by using our Formula for Listening.
Image Pictures More Than Hear Words
When I first experienced this method of listening from Robert Fritz, it was difficult for me and still requires more work than others I know. That may not be true for you. The significant "aha" came when I could finally "turn the sound off." That sounds weird, right?
Here's what that means. When you let your mind do what it naturally does—form mental pictures—you begin to “see” the conversation.
Your mind loves pictures. Turn the sound off and let your mind create an image from the words the person says. Better yet, observational listening goes beyond pictures; it creates a video. You learn to create and watch the video of the conversation. You see them working on the report, the fight they had, or the mistake they made.
Obviously, you still hear the words, but when you let the words form pictures, you teach yourself to pay attention to the pictures more than the words. Then you begin to see the context of the words. That is when you start the process of listening excellence.
When you listen by seeing what people say, it is powerful! And, it isn't as hard as you might think since it is natural for your mind to do the picture or video thing.
Seek Facts With Good Questions
My most significant difficulty was trying to create an accurate picture the first time someone said something. Yes, that is good to have that desire, but it isn't good when you limit the images you allow your mind to create.
You ask questions when you let your mind create a picture or video based on what you hear. That allows your mind to revise the pictures found in their answer to your question. It gets much easier when you use that process. Your mind easily creates new images or changes the ones you have.
And please take advantage of this critical instruction. When you listen, the questions come directly from the pictures rather than trying to determine what to ask next. Listening excellence gives you an additional skill - a great conversationalist. You can talk about almost anything because you ask questions from the pictures.
Generally, a simple process to use is...
Then you create accurate mental pictures or videos of what they are saying. If you do that, you begin to see what people say.
Trust Simple and Single Questions
When you listen and then see what people say, you not only ask good questions, you use simple and single questions. Listening excellence helps the other person and the video you create by asking simple, clear, and understandable questions.
Please do not do what you see journalists do on television. They ask 2 or 3 questions before they stop. Of course, that structure differs from the one-on-one conversation you have.
Work hard to ask simple questions, one question at a time. Simple is elegant when you want to listen and see what people say.
Ensure Clarity and Connection with Summaries
You may disagree, but I believe communication is cursed. The evidence is objective in your life if you look at those times when your relationships were not working well. You help remove the curse from communication by summarizing what your mental pictures or video have shown you so far. Simply provide a quick summary and let them verify how well you are tracking with them.
Listening excellence understands the communication curse and common mistakes we make in conversations that keep us from listening.
Most importantly, do not assume that you accurately see what they say. It is easy to ignore checking with them because your pictures make sense to you. But that assumption does not mean you "see" what they are saying. If you accept that communication is cursed, you tend to take more responsibility in conversations.
Take the time to summarize.
Finally, listening excellence involves practice just like any other skill. Practice is the only way to learn how to listen by seeing what people say. Observational Listening takes dedicated time to practice. Of course, you also need feedback, which means working with someone gifted like Robert Fritz.
And always be ready to stop and ask yourself, “What’s a better question?” Doing that gives you the best chance to create the best mental video. More importantly, you serve the speaker best when you do that.