Catch! The Secret to Active Listening.

skyeteam leadership development

“Heads up!”

This familiar call alerts us to an incoming object by redirecting our attention to the current environment. Ok, it also helps us not get injured. Sometimes I think we should yell the same thing as we are talking with each other.

As a facilitator and executive coach, I spend a lot of my time “listening” to others whether it is in the context of learning in the classroom or 1:1 in a session. For many of us we don’t even think about listening as we flow from conversation to conversation interacting with many different individuals each day.

I have often thought that listening skills are the most widely taught skill in corporate America while at the same time being used the least. I don’t know this for sure, but I am gauging it based on an activity I use in my classes.

Please join in.  How many people in your life listen really well to you:  pay full attention, listen without judgment, ask questions from a place of curiosity, feedback what they heard you say?

Take a minute.  How many did you come up with?  Most of us come up with one or two, sometimes three. Some people say that only their dogs fit this description!

Thank goodness for our pets!

Now, how many people do you know and keep social contact with?  The average human being knows between 150-300 people.  Is that not the saddest statistic you have ever heard of?  And, would you be on someone else’s list as a good listener.  I know I am not always on that list.

So why is listening so hard?  

Let’s use the analogy of throwing a ball. You know when you play catch with someone you do your best to catch their ball?  The same concept exists when we listen.  People just want others to “catch” what they say. The reality is we don’t catch.  We usually throw a different ball back without ever catching the other person’s ball in the first place.

Here is a list of some of the balls we throw back instead of catching theirs.  See if you can spot your own personal favorite:

Relater

The same thing happened to me! I did that, too. I saw, or heard, or went … also.
(Takes the conversation focus back onto the listener and away from the speaker leaving the speaker to feel unimportant.)
Analyzer
I wonder why you did that. Do you suppose it happened because …?
(Thanks for telling me about my own experience and picking it apart.)
Sympathizer
You poor thing. What a shame. Oh, what a pity.
(May feel as though you see me as weak or that something is wrong with me.)
Adviser
You ought to do … You know the way to handle that? What you really ought to do is …
(I most likely didn’t ask you to solve my problem.)
One-Upper
You think that’s bad, or good, great, or terrible … Wait ‘til I tell you what happened to me!  You should see what happened to …
(Since what I shared has been dismissed, I’ll just stop talking.  This also creates competition for being a victim or having the greatest success.)
Judger
You shouldn’t have done that. That’s awful. You ought to … That was the wrong thing to do. That was a bad way to …
(Wow, thanks for the evaluation.)
Subject Changer
Not to change the subject, but … Or you simply break in and talk about something else, or at the first silence talk about something else
(But you just did change the subject and whatever was important to me was just dismissed.)

While some of these may be an ok way of connecting with others in some situations, most are not. They take us out of connection with others.  What happens to you when people engage with one of these behaviors with you?

So, what can we do instead?

We can catch. This is a concept I began working with a couple of years ago and it has made all the difference for me. People just want others to “catch” what they say. I literally visualize catching their message and letting them know I caught it. Once we let people know we have caught their ball, we can then throw it back.  So what are we catching, exactly?  There are many different aspects of their message we can catch and here are a few:

  • Catch the content of the other person’s message. This is when we capture the essence of the message concisely in the listener’s own words. Some sentence stems include:
    • If I got it…
    • So what happened is…
    • Let me make sure I am following you…
  • Catch the feelings the other person has regarding the situation. It doesn’t mean you agree with their feelings, just that you understand they have the feelings. 
    • What sounds most (difficult, problematic, exciting…) for you is…
    • This sounds like a challenging situation
  • Validation is catching the logic or what we can ‘see’ or ‘hear’ as the other person’s perception. Validating doesn’t mean you agree with the other person.  It means you understand how they interpreted the person and/or situation or how they came to that conclusion.
    • So what led you to this conclusion is…
    • What it meant to you is…
    • I can see how you got there.

I am a very visual person so I will often picture the other individual’s words as coming to me for me to catch them. Sometimes I realize I have forgotten to catch their ideas or opinions because they have shared them with me again. No worries, as soon as I notice it, I catch it.

When facilitating teams, I watch to see if the team is catching each other.  If not, we slow down the process and I will model catching.  When teams do not practice catching, we end up with a graveyard of ideas, opinions, motivation, etc.  As soon as individuals begin catching, we notice a big uptake in the amount of teamwork seen among team members.

So the next time someone shares something with you, catch it!