In today’s fast-paced, message-heavy digital world it has become difficult to focus on understanding each other’s needs, desires and viewpoints. Interpersonal communication has become a culture of interruption and impatient verbal cues.
Despite all of that, the art of listening is not dead. In fact, the art and skill of conscious listening is growing. Let’s discuss the seven ways conscious listening will improve your company culture.
What is conscious listening?
Conscious listening is the act of being intentionally present during communication between yourself and another while being aware of your own and the other’s feelings and needs. Conscious listening is related to mindful listening, which is allowing another to express him/herself without interrupting, judging, refuting or discounting.
The “conscious” part of conscious listening is key to effective communication. We spend 60% of our communication time listening, but only retain 25% of what we hear. So, it’s not that we’re not putting in the time, it’s that we are not consciously internalizing what the other person has to say. For example, how many times have you caught yourself in a meeting roleplaying in your mind what you want to say once the person who is talking is finished? We all do it. Conscious listening is realizing you are doing it, pausing, and turning your attention back to the speaker.
Conscious listening is a skill that will assist you in any setting – business, academic, social, personal, etc. Of course, you are reading this on a Conscious Capitalism blog, so I’m going to focus on how conscious listening will improve your company culture no matter where you sit in the org chart.
What is Conscious Capitalism?
Conscious Capitalism is a fast-growing global movement dedicated to elevating humanity through a business philosophy that has four key pillars:
- Higher Purpose: sense of purpose that creates an extraordinary degree of engagement for all stakeholders and catalyzes tremendous organizational energy
- Stakeholder Orientation: focus on a mix of stakeholders that includes Society, Partners, Investors, Customers and Employees (SPICE)
- Conscious Leadership: leadership driven by the business’s purpose, rather than by power or money, and motivated by mentoring, growth and challenge
- Conscious Culture: environment where all levels of the business thrive on Trust, Authenticity, Caring, Transparency, Integrity, Learning and Empowerment (TACTILE)
It is without doubt that conscious listening will positively impact all four areas, but it is the fourth pillar of Conscious Culture that I am going to focus on here.
It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO or an entry-level staff member starting his/her first day on the job. Leading by example in the area of conscious listening will dramatically improve your work environment and your team’s dynamic, as well as your company’s profits and impact on the world.
7 ways conscious listening will improve your company culture
Numerous studies have shown that high trust organizations are 2-4 times more profitable than low trust organizations. We’re talking about employees’ trust in each other, stakeholders’ trust in the company, leadership’s trust in the mission. Conscious listening helps build trust in all of these areas.
The goal should be to build a culture where everybody matters. To do this, start listening. Listen to your employees when they tell you they are overloaded. Listen to your investors when they tell you the company needs to innovate. Listen to your customers when they tell you they expect changes in your product/service. Truly hearing and internalizing their perceptions and opinions (even if you don’t have the solution just yet) is the start to building trust among your most important audiences.
A culture that embraces authenticity is a culture in which people can be themselves. This is a culture where people don’t hesitate during brainstorm sessions, people aren’t afraid to ask their questions first during the Q&A, people can disagree with one another without getting defensive. This is a culture you want to build, and you can do so through consciously listening.
What does this look like? It looks like a conversation where pauses and silence are not immediately filled, where one person speaks at a time without being interrupted, where people ask questions without judgment and where everyone around the table is first seeking to understand and secondly seeking to be understood.
A Conscious Culture is a caring culture. And how can you care if you don’t understand the person and/or dilemma? Conscious listening creates understanding.
Our work occupies most of our waking hours. Why are we all in this mindset that self-care happens outside of business hours? The reality is – it doesn’t have to. Work can improve our health. And the first step in creating a culture that improves the lives of its people is consciously listening – leading to a true understanding – of what their needs are and how to care for them.
There is a lot of talk about transparency, mostly about being transparent to our shareholders or customers. But what about being transparent with ourselves.
According to Tanya M. Odom, global bias and tolerance consultant, we all create unconscious biases towards others. An unconscious bias is a short-cut that our brain takes based on previous information. Many unconscious biases are triggered by race, gender and age. So, before the person you’re meeting with has even said a word, your brain has run a filter and made decisions about what this person has to say.
The reality is – this happens to all of us. The difference is – conscious listeners understand it’s happening. Conscious listeners recognize the bias, remove the filter, and center themselves to be intentionally present in the conversation and actively work to be aware of the speaker’s feelings and needs.
Integrity means being honest, being driven by values, doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, and being your word.
We all have a desire to be right, to come up with the next big idea, and/or to have the last say in the matter. So, how do these desires fit with integrity?
I believe that through conscious listening you are acknowledging these desires and making the decision that others’ voices and ideas are just as important and valuable as your own. Even if you don’t agree, by listening you are communicating that you appreciate and value the other person’s perspective.
Additionally, to be truly honest means that you acknowledge that you don’t always have the answer or the solution. Even if you are the company’s fearless leader – you don’t always have the answer or the solution.
Saying “I don’t know” is honest and demonstrates integrity. Being vulnerable and listening to others’ perspectives is authentic and the right thing to do.
The second definition of integrity is “the state of being whole and undivided.” Conscious listening will allow your team to diversify, unify, and prosper.
Conscious listening is learning on so many levels!
First, it is a skill that can be learned. We should be teaching listening just as we teach speaking and writing and reading. It is NOT to be overlooked or taken for granted.
Second, imagine all you can learn from listening!
Third, stemming from section #5 Integrity, when you admit that you don’t know the answer or don’t have the solution it opens the door to learning about what those solutions are or could be. At that point, conscious listening is an opportunity to learn and collect ideas. You don’t have to use those ideas, but it will only embolden the decision you do make by being well-informed.
Finally, we get to empowerment. The cornerstone to leadership and building/sustaining a Conscious Culture.
Through conscious listening, you can empower others to share their true thoughts. By carving out the time and attention for your colleagues, you are empowering them to speak their minds and be thoughtful in their words. And the information you receive as a conscious listener will help you understand where the person is coming from and that will lead to stronger, more empowering interactions.
For example, through conscious listening you may learn your colleague has new ideas about how to implement a program/initiative. You can then empower him/her to take a leadership role in bringing those ideas to life. The initiative will be more effective, your colleague will be empowered, and your relationship will be stronger. Once you start listening to people, you will begin to think of others as thought partners versus task masters.
Conscious listening is a generous gift. It is the difference between personal broadcasting and the art and skill of conversation. Through conscious listening, you build trust; become authentic, caring, and transparent; demonstrate integrity; and learn about yourself, others and the world. Through those first six elements of TACTILE, you will find yourself empowering those around you to be their best selves.
Again, it doesn’t matter where you sit in the organizational chart (at the very top or the very bottom), you can empower others through conscious listening. Leading by example in the area of conscious listening will dramatically improve your work environment, your team’s dynamic, as well as your company’s profits and impact on the world.
How to practice conscious listening?
“Ok, that all sounds good, but how do I get started?”
Here are three actions you can take today:
- Take your presence to work.
Conscious listening requires being intentionally present. Learn how to conduct a short Presence Practice exercise through this audio clip by Conscious Capitalism Co-Founder Raj Sisodia.
- Practice using the RASA method.
International speaker and communications expert Julian Treasure has coined the RASA method. Learn more about his methods from this video on conscious listening in a fast-paced world.
- Receive (pay attention with your eyes, lean forward)
- Appreciate (nodding, affirming gestures)
- Summarize (“So, here’s what I heard…”)
- Ask questions
- Take a class on conscious listening
Consider investing in your listening skills and take a class to become a more conscious listener. Learn more here about a conscious listening course offered through Udemy.