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Listening at the Highest Level

Have you ever had a series of candidate interviews, back-to-back throughout the day and then go home and wonder why you are physically and mentally exhausted? It is likely because you were listening at the highest level.

You are tuned into each candidate, their answers, body language, tone of voice, and even take notes to capture the finest details. Leaders, hiring managers, and talent acquisition professionals listen at the highest level during the interview process, so they can select the best candidate for an open position. Participating in a series of day-long interviews can be exhausting, because we are not accustomed to listening in this manner.

I first learned about listening at the highest level many years ago from my young son. We were completing homework after school, and he was seated behind me at the kitchen table, asking me basic math questions as a young elementary student. I was multi-tasking and cooking dinner, with my back to him while at the stove. He told me I was not listening several times. I stated that I was, however he replied: “Mom you are not listening to me with your eyes!”

Listening with your eyes speaks to the core of listening at the highest level.

There was my listening lesson! My young son knew I was not practicing it, because I was not looking at him when answering his questions. I was not listening with my eyes, though not physically required for the exchange. I was hearing but not listening.

All leaders need to interact with their team members by practicing the highest levels of listening to be successful, and effective listening requires even more than eye contact.

After years of practicing and teaching listening skills, I offer the following suggestions:

Put everything else aside. It is important to be present in the moment, so be sure to put your phone away or close your laptop or position your office chair and desk away from your computer. Do your best to control your environment and distractions, so you can fully focus. Make the person you are listening to feel like the most important person in the world.

Be sure your body language and tone reflect your support. When listening, be sure your body language, and even your paralanguage, such as nodding, reflect the highest level of listening. Use open body language, showing interest and use words such as “yes” or other affirmative phrases to confirm your attention.

Talk less, yet ask questions. When listening, you should do just that, listen more and talk less, but questions add to the shared meaning. For clarification and to show you are paying attention, ask questions. This will help to ensure you are listening intently and understanding fully.

Pause before responding. We are all so busy that we do not allow and are not comfortable with silence. When you pause before responding, you show your level of attention and thoughtfulness before a reply. If you jump right in with a response, it will show that you have been formulating a response while listening, which is not the highest level of listening.

Show empathy. Perhaps the hardest of all, leaders need to consider whatever is being shared through the listener’s eyes. Your goal is to be supportive, kind, and caring. Listen carefully and without judgment.

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