Listening is an invaluable life skill and the cornerstone of high emotional intelligence. Many new mentors tell me they now realise how useful this skill is. They see that listening is transferable to their leadership roles, as well as helping with their professional and personal relationships.
So here is a quick insight into 5 key areas of listening that I hope will help you personally and professionally, as well as sharing what mentoring can involve:
As humans we communicate a lot so you may assume we are naturally good at it. Sadly, that is not the case! Part of communicating is listening which is a skill that can be learnt, practised, and continually improved.
Research suggests that we focus and remember only between 25% and 50% of what we hear.
That means that when you talk to people that are important to you, including your family, on average they will be taking in less than half of the conversation. The added challenge is you won't know which of the 25-50 percent they have missed!
As a mentor it means that unless you are aware of this challenge and continually focus on improving your skills when you are in a conversation with your mentee, you will not be taking in all of what your mentee is saying either.
In addition, our life mentor specialist, Adam, likes to remind us: “Whatever you focus on expands.”
In other words, if you are looking for particular themes or confirmations you will only listen and look to the part that reinforces your focus. That focus then becomes utmost in your mind and has a greater impact for you. Clearly, if you are using this knowledge to focus on positive outcomes this can often be a very useful way to listen and communicate. The issue here is that humans are very good at focussing on negatives not positives.
To get the best out of a conversation, it is necessary to connect emotionally. My friend, Professor Kiran Trehan, reminded me of this at one of her lectures quoting Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
Listening shows how much you value someone. By listening carefully, you make them feel their views and opinions are important to you and that you care. This includes all your relationships, professional or personal. All of these will work better if they connect with you through communicating on an emotional level.
This can be difficult for some mentors, as they feel that they need to be senior and be the guide. That isn't mentoring and having an ego in mentoring is unhelpful to you and your mentee.
To connect with people emotionally as a mentor, you need to be just you. There is only one of you and people will feel when you are being authentic.
Whenever someone is talking roughly 7% is speech; and 38% is pitch, emotion, speed, volume and tone. So the majority, the 55 % left, is body language.
Your ears can only pick up the sounds of language, not its physical expressions. Your ears can only hear what is being said; they pass on the signal to the brain. Hearing what is NOT said only takes place in the brain itself. Your brain simultaneously processes and works out signals from the eyes and the ears, picking up these so much faster than conscious thought.
So, what is your mentee really sharing with you? Listening needs to include all your senses. Start thinking:
- What is being said?
- Is there anything not being said?
- What hidden messages are there below the surface?
- Do the non-verbal signals match the words being said?
- Why did they say something?
- Has anything been left out?
- Do you feel your mentee is being authentic, transparent and honest?
Your personal and professional instincts in mentoring are very powerful tools that are really helpful to you here. So by being observant and focussing on using all of your wider information tools, you will becoming better at understanding unspoken messages and therefore become a much better listener and mentor.
4. Personal bias
Everyone has biases and to be a great listener it is critical to have an awareness of these biases.
We apply bias without realising and sometimes this is just in a small way. Any bias however will be both damaging to you and those that you support through mentoring. It is therefore important to consider:
- Have you accurately interpreted what your mentee said?
- Is their meaning clear or have you added your own translation?
- Are you so focused on hearing what you want to hear that you have missed something important?
One example is with closeness communication bias. People frequently overestimate their ability to communicate, especially with people they know well. Research shows that people who know each other well understand each other no better than people who had recently met! Our problem in communicating with people we know is that we have an illusion that they really know and understand us to the extent they can ‘fill in the gaps’. In other words, when we speak with people we know well, we make assumptions about what they understand.
So in the mentoring world you need to take as much care with a mentee that you have been working with for a long time to continually check your and their understanding as you would with a new mentee relationship.
5. Active listening
“You have been given two ears and one mouth, so you should use them in that proportion”.
The way to improve your listening skills is to practice "active listening." This is where you make a conscious focussed effort to hear the words that another person is saying and critically focus your attention on the complete message being sent. To make this work as a mentor you will need to use your brain and concentrate a lot! That is because you need to use all your senses and all of your awareness.
How to improve listening with your brain
The great news is once you appreciate that something you have done naturally for your whole life can be enhanced by mentoring practice and awareness then it is easily improved. Here are 10 quick practical mentor actions:
They all make it clear that you value the other person and your relationship with them.