I’m Mathieu Bonte, marketing & communication manager at Absolute Agency for three years already. I complement this position with my skills as a professional coach, graduated from the Nova Terra school (ICF – “International Coach Federation”). This double expertise enables me to add real value to both internal as external projects. To showcase this, we decided to share with you several topics that we deem very useful in your day-to-day work, whatever your function, sector, or responsibilities.
A couple of years ago, I was convinced that my listening skills were better than average. I always considered this to be one of my biggest strengths… until I had the opportunity to learn more about Listening – with a capital L. It was a real eye-opener that forced me to deconstruct everything I assumed until then to build a new reality. Not an easy feat at 40 years old!
‘Breathing’ is innate. We don’t have to teach babies to do it. A lot of us consider ‘listening’ to be an innate and natural act too. But of course, the reality is much different.
In her book “Communiquer avec authenticité”, Sylviane Cannio explains that listening is an art. It’s the art of devoting all your benevolent attention to the one person you’re talking to. ‘Listening’ is an integral part of the communication system and the exchange between two persons. ‘Listening’ implies humility and the capacity to diminish our own ‘interior dialogue’, which pushes us to filter, interpret and mentally judge the person we’re listening to. ‘Listening’ requires an actual dose of energy, much different from the one that we are used to.
Not that long ago, I thought that listening was just something we did with our ears! But real listening is a much more complete activity than we think. This partial and limited listening is detrimental to the efficiency of our communication, both in a professional, as in a personal context. Remember that you have your own opinions, values, experiences, sensibilities, beliefs, suffering, … The person in front of you has their own, which are unique and personal as well! All this can become a complicated jigsaw puzzle when you’re not applying specific methods to make your communication and comprehension as efficient as possible.
Listening with all our senses
You’ll probably be surprised to hear the following statistics:
The message of the person you’re talking to is composed of barely 7% of words, 38% of your voice (tempo, tone of voice, rhythm, volume) and 55% of body language (posture, gestures, facial expressions, respiration, the colour of your face, etc.)!
‘Complete listening’ takes into account all these elements, on different levels. To truly listen, we need to be able to recognise all these various, behavioural indicators that we associate with the feelings of the person we’re talking to. The more you develop this skill of understanding the inner state of other people, the more you’ll be able to listen in a complete and optimal way.
You can even do the test! Ask the person you’re talking to, to talk about a happy situation first before switching to a stressful story. You’ll spot the differences right away when you observe these two situations with all your senses.
By calibrating visually, we try to detect things that we can observe with our own eyes. These can be things such as the posture of the person we’re talking with, the way they’re breathing, the positioning of their shoulders, head, hands & arms, the movement of their eyes, etc. This visual calibration is something we need to train for a while before we can start to reap the benefits. Every signal represents another aspect of the inner state of the person, which means that every change corresponds to another shift in their inner state. Beware, we as humans have the annoying tendency to focus too much on words and our judgments, which prevents us sometimes – or even often – from correctly understanding the person in front of us.
With auditive calibration, I mean detecting things that we can observe in terms of the voice, the way of talking, the volume, the subtle interruptions, etc. If we manage to calibrate on this level with the person we’re talking to, we can synchronise with them, which will considerably facilitate the conversation.
The clean sheet: theory or reality?
What we call the ‘clean sheet’, refers to our ability to stay entirely open for the “world map” of the person we’re talking with. It should be our goal to not apply our own vision, experience, judgments, and values to what the other person is saying. If you come as close as possible to this ‘clean sheet’, you will be able to improve the communication and relation with this person considerably. But beware, you might have understood that this is a very complex exercise and that you should keep this notion in mind all the time, in order for it to be effective. In other words, it’s a mindset that needs to be installed progressively and sustainably.
To make it more concrete, imagine that you have a meeting with a coworker to talk about the level of achievement of his yearly objectives. And bam! Your co-worker starts explaining to you how his personal situation has been very complicated, which has had a negative impact on the quality of his work. His marriage is going to ruins, which is spiralling out of control. And as the cherry on top, one of his parents fell ill, which introduced a whole new level of uncertainty in the family. Without realising, you’re diving deep in this double context with him, because you happen to have experienced the same thing. His story resonates within you, and your emotions and your own story quickly take the upper hand in the communication with him. You’re not capable any longer of pursuing this meeting neutrally while listening ‘completely’, because, from this moment, your memories, feelings, values and vision will be ‘polluting’ everything your co-worker is going to say from that point on.
Try to think already of a future meeting with one of your co-workers, where you can install your proper safeguards to avoid losing your ‘clean sheet’. It’ll allow you to establish – in a surprising way – open communication, without parasites, without filter, which will lead to an unparalleled level of comprehension for the other.
Let’s face it; the ‘clean sheet’ is a theory that we absolutely need to practise. But the exercise is a real challenge for all of us, because we’re not just robots and we all have the tendency to – deliberately or deliberately – try to take the lead during conversations. Our proper history, our ego, the framework of our values, and our education often prevents us from actually listening to the other without any filters, parasites or judgments.
Listening in a nutshell
My own experience with this has taught me a couple of things:
- Whatever your age, it’s tiring, disconcerting, and frustrating to acquire a new skill such as … listening. But one thing is sure; it’s indispensable to deconstruct the skill itself before we can start building a new reality for ourselves.
- The clean sheet exercise is a long-term effort that needs to be adjusted all the time. We will never succeed completely, but what’s important is to be conscious of it and to approach perfection as much as possible!
- ‘Listening’ is a bit like cooking! We not only eat with our mouth, but also with our eyes, which take notice of the colors, the plate, texture, and other things that go into the complexity of the dish’s presentation.
Author: Mathieu Bonte