I don’t know what you do. You may work as an employee or be an entrepreneur… Or spend your life in another way. Whatever you do, there is one skill important to each of us: listening. We can achieve so much more by listening than we do. The sweet juice of this idea tastes wonderful and smells tempting, but we don’t dare to reap the rewards… If that also applies to you – or if you think you can listen well, this article is for you.

Benefit more from listening

Listening offers you the opportunity to improve your product or service.  To sell more and to build better relationships. That’s pleasant for your brand and your revenue… But also for you as a person.

It sounds so simple: to listen. Hearing what other people are telling you. But listening is much more complicated than one might think: we are all drowned in our own thoughts.

Suppose you’re a paperclip salesman…

A good friend of mine always manages to slow me down. Well, always… This is rarely the case. ; -) I’m just kidding. It’s almost like a ritual (of which I am not proud at all). When I overload him with words, he drops out. He then lowers his eyes, takes a deep breath and lifts them up again. Subsequently, he looks at me: “do you remember that story …” Yes! The story of the paperclips.

‘Imagine you’re selling paperclips. One day, you sit down with a potential customer. You’re having an entertaining conversation about paperclips. There’s a point where the customer asks you if your paper clips are breaking in the shredder. ‘What would your answer be? You can start a passionate story about the strength of the paperclips you’re selling. Explain that they are flexible but strong. You could do that. Until you realize the customer is asking because he’s looking for paper clips that break in the shredder. Because last year he wrote off three shredders for paperclips that can’t be broken.

We think while we hear. We fill in to save time.

Listening can be like meditation: challenging

If you compare listening to meditation, there are a few similarities. The struggle with thoughts that are bubbling up is evident. But just as it does not work for meditation to just sit on a meditation pillow and shut up, it does not work for listening to tilt your head and wait for your turn to react. Ehm, yeah… There are people who recommend this sort of thing to people who want to learn to listen better.

Three forms of listening

A while ago, I decided to get better at listening. I believe it enriches my world. And in the meantime, I believe “not listening” is something that is a major obstacle for many of us.

For the sake of simplicity, I distinguish in this article between three levels on which one can listen. This division into three levels contributes to clarifying ideas. Then we have something to talk about (forth). These three levels are attractive to me because they help you to determine at what level you are listening. One level is more accessible and easier than the other. (My spiritual self now encourages me to recognize more levels, but I want to keep the article readable.)

  • Level 1. Listening to your inner voice
  • Level 2. Listening to another.
  • Level 3. Listening in context.
  1. Listening to your inner voice

You probably know what I mean when I write about the little voice in your head. The voice of your thoughts. The voice that speaks within your frame of reference. The voice that does not differ from how you perceive and understand the world. That voice sounds a lot and often. Even if you try to listen (attentively) to someone else. Sometimes it is because you want to respond to what is being said. Other times you lose interest. Then random thoughts pop up. Other times you think you know better because that little voice says it all. Or you find it annoying what is being said because it doesn’t suit the world that the voice creates in your head. Listening at level 1 can also imply that you only perceive the signals of another person to confirm your own opinion, even if the other person did not intend to send these signals.

Are you noticing your inner voice? Then it’s time to take your listening to the next level.

  1. Listening to an other person

Welcome to level 2 of the art of listening. This level refers to the ability to listen and pay attention. Suppose you have a first date, about which you want to know everything. You hang on to every word. At Level 2, you can listen without being distracted by the voice in your head. You’re so invested in the other person’s story that you don’t realize that your date is constantly checking his or her watch and that he or she has refused the dessert… Have you listened?

  1. Listening in context

Level 3 is the gold standard for listening. Simply the greatest. Nevertheless, few people can listen in this way, at this level. When you talk to your partner, do you listen only to his words, or do you also observe what he tells you with his body? Do you notice what people don’t say? Are you able to put the words in a broader context and only then give meaning to them? It’s cool if you can be aware of the environment while listening attentively and with concentration. That, while listening carefully to your partner’s story and asking questions, you will also realize your partner is thinking about your first holiday together, thanks to Einaudi’s music. You can only hear and observe this if you know how to listen between the lines. Dare to listen. The latter was for me primarily: dare. Do you dare to hear more than you think? Do you dare to listen outside your own frame of reference?

Listening in context is not about knowing everything. Sometimes you have to ask to create a context. If you want to master the art of listening, you have to ask more often. And more targeted. Follow your interlocutor verbally.

How do you learn different listening patterns?

Do you want to improve your listening? Then you have to practice. Listening in context is unnatural. That little voice in our heads is nothing crazy. This is not necessarily something “you have to get rid of”. However, you can train yourself to start listening to others at level 3. It can enrich your world. Listening differently means behaving differently. And changing behavior requires conditioning. You will have to practice at least six months. Maybe a year.

Perhaps listening in context is like a boxer conditioning himself to be hit. It’s counterintuitive. But it can keep you going. As an entrepreneur, as a person.

How do you start to listen differently? Try to be aware of the level at which you are listening. Next time you listen to someone, you can do that. If you are aware of an inner voice, you are at level one. Be aware of this voice, but try to ignore it. You don’t have to get rid of it. You’re a sort of director and you decide who’s on stage. This is not that inner voice, but the sound of the other.