Why is listening useful in language

Communicating is not the same as talking

© gettyimages / natasaadzic

Anyone who broadcasts permanently in conferences and employee appraisals is missing the essentials. Why active listening is worthwhile and why we can read a lot more from the face of our counterpart than we think - if we have a little patience.

We all know situations in which the sense of mission dominates. But how can our communication be slowed down, our dealings with one another calm down? We spend 45 percent of our awake time listening, so the role of the receiver is the most common for us. However, very few have the well-trained technology to do it justice.

+++ This article first appeared in our print magazine Human Resources Manager. You can find an overview of the issues here. +++

“Most communication training courses focus on setting control impulses in the conversation, for example by asking questions. That increases self-centeredness, ”says economic and social psychologist Rolf H. Bay. The systemic advisor teaches executives the ability to listen. His guidebook “Successful conversations through active listening” was published in the ninth edition last year, and there is obviously still a lot of catching up to do. In Bay's observation, probing listening is widespread according to the principle “What of what the other says is particularly relevant to me, where can I hook up?” But: “This is not a partner-oriented communication, but a pure filtering of what to do fits your own motives or your own view of the world. ”The rest of what has been said is sorted out as uninteresting.

“You're in a meeting. The colleague is still hanging in the subordinate clauses, but you have actually long since understood his net message. This one catchphrase has burned into you, and if you’re about to do it, you will already know exactly how to refute his argument and stage your own proposal. When will he finally be silent ?! "

We want to distinguish ourselves and we tend to take in information specifically on topics for which we have already created a basis that we can link straight away. So we stay in the analog filter bubble, succumb to the temptation to avoid cognitive dissonances. We should break away from that and realize that listening is so much more than receiving sound waves - it's about understanding.

Analog filter bubbles

“The focus is often more on communicating and less on pausing, absorbing and processing,” confirms communication trainer Michaela Vogel, who specializes in facial expression. When we perceive what has been said, it is often with the reservation that we can use it to prepare something for our own argumentation. Our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, and studies show that this is also due to our media consumption. “It's a defensive stance: the more information rattles on us, the stronger our selection reflex becomes.” We have got used to the keyword communication that we operate, for example, via messenger services such as Whatsapp. In addition, the devices are also on the table in conferences and distract us. Sitting in a lecture and typing on the mobile phone? What would have been considered impolite in the past is now usually even encouraged by specifying hashtags about events.

“Imagine a conference. People eagerly listen to the guest on the podium. Well, people let themselves be sprinkled, constantly looking at their smartphones and waiting. And wait. Until they snap it up: the perfect - minimally adjusted - twitterable sentence. Quickly typed, added hashtag, done. Let's see how the network reacts ... "

Does that harm our listening culture? “Yes, absolutely,” says Bay. Just through the presence of the smartphone, we tended to communicate in small bites and invested less in the emotional bond. “If I have a sincere interest in understanding the speaker, in understanding his thoughts, then I let him focus on the five minutes. I signal to the other that what he is saying is valuable by paying him my attention. ”The effect is doubly positive: I not only notice more, but also motivate him to open up further and gain deeper insights to grant.

Our handling of digital media makes us more impatient. He programmed us to expect an immediate response. "This gives communication a ping-pong character, we move on the line of dominance without going into integration," criticizes Bay. "However, real communication is a mixture of both: I drive the conversation forward with specific questions, and with active listening I sound out the background of a statement."

Continuous broadcasters are blenders

Bay explains the technology using an everyday example: “Someone has bought a picture and presents it to a friend. The self-centered person will now ask: 'Where did you get that from? How much did it cost? ‘He uses a dominance technique, only drives the conversation forward to the point of which information he can specifically use for himself. He didn't notice the other person's euphoria. ”And an active listener? “It would capture the whole, starting with: 'You sound enthusiastic - sounds like you've fulfilled a wish!‘ That would be integrative - I take the other person's statement and process it. I paraphrase, pick up the mood - that has an opening effect because the other person feels that they are being taken seriously. "

Initially, however, this is not a question of technology, but rather of attitude and empathy: Are I interested in the person I am talking to? According to the forefather of active listening, the American psychologist Carl Rogers, one of the basic premises for this is acceptance and a positive view of the other. Unfortunately, this is not always the case at work. So what should I do if I really don't care or even disagree with my counterpart, but I have to work with them and therefore have to listen to them? “I can do that by separating between person and behavior,” explains Bay. “According to Rogers, we should pay attention to whether each other's behavior is consistent with my goals. Active listening can be useful for this, for example to mirror the other: 'What I said just got through to me: ...… "

The listener always has the authority to interpret - we as the broadcaster have to swallow this pill. But even those who feel attacked should avoid the fronts hardening. “If the other person says: 'I think your project is quite ambitious', I would not answer the question, but instead ask a clarifying question:' What exactly do you mean by ambitious? 'On the other hand, I feel attacked and say:' That is but a completely normal procedure! ', a conflict may arise. "

Now, honestly, active listening is not a new invention. It is therefore all the more surprising that the technology is used too seldom, especially in everyday working life that is trimmed for efficiency. What is the problem - a lack of calm and patience? “There are trainings, but they don't always make it better,” Bay said. “It gets bad when instead of paraphrasing a parrot technique is trained. If the other person repeats what we say literally, we feel fooled. "

Quick, quick, quick ... I beg your pardon?

With attention and targeted interventions, we get the most out of every (employee) conversation. According to Bay, the simplest open and advanced question is: “What is it that moves you with this topic?” Very few have a ready-made answer to that. Questions are interventions in our world of thought and emotion that trigger search impulses. The systemic consultant has a picture for this: "If we imagine the brain as a high-bay warehouse, the question is a little cart that prepares the answer configuration, dashes through the warehouse and collects the answer components." “We should allow the other one. It is often said that someone who answers quickly is a quick thinker. This is nonsense, the other person can give me an unimportant plastic answer the quickest. "

If I try my reaction while listening, my mind is gone. “There is no multitasking in neurobiology,” says Bay. At least none that is more demanding than singing while you shower. So if I listen carefully to the other person until the final sentence before I think about a reaction, that means: Communication becomes slow, there are pauses. And we have to learn to endure them first. We learned socially that others respond to a question after three to five seconds. According to Bay, everything that goes beyond that is already interpreted as someone else's film tear. Or we feel compelled to rephrase our question because we fear that the other person did not understand it. Irritation arises either way.

“The other person says… nothing and just looks at you thoughtfully. Your question was seconds ago. What is going on there - and did you express yourself awkwardly? So rather send a more precise formulation, the break is slowly becoming a bit embarrassing. "Hello …?!"

It is easier for self-confident people with a certain standing to ignore them. In this way, the intern will feel more urged to react quickly to a question than the CEO. In general, both character and position influence our listening behavior. Studies show that particularly active people are poorer listeners and that particularly high-ranking people take up the most speaking time. "Status correlates with speaking time, very clearly," confirms Bay.

But it is also a fact: if the manager does not listen to the experts in their team, they themselves will suffer the greatest damage. Because by half listening, from which we can hardly draw anything because we are mentally somewhere else, we waste a lot of time. That is why active listening is not only profitable from the point of view of appreciation, but also from the point of view of value creation. “If you listen carefully, you can raise resources and have a lever to find solutions more quickly,” says Bay. “Not only will I get smarter, but my fellow human beings will be more loyal to me when I listen to them. I would rather approach these people. "

First reflect on form, then content

But how do I deal with it if I contradict the interlocutor internally or if he reproaches me? “When things get critical, we tend to avoid eye contact. But it is the most important bearer of sympathy, we should hold it as far as possible. ”However, this should not be understood as an invitation to stare, emphasizes Michaela Vogel:“ It is essential to look away for a moment - after all, I have to process the information and do not want the other person Stare at with immobile pupils. That would be dominance. "

Especially in crisis discussions it is important to communicate observations without judgment. A remark like "I see you are under a lot of steam right now" could help. “If we go straight to the content, the other person is stuck in the neural loop of his emotional brain. Only when my counterpart reflects on the form does he switch to the rational and can regulate himself, ”says Bay. Most of the listeners do not have this calmness and immediately comment on what has been said. “It will then probably take twice as long to find a solution.” Mimic coach Michaela Vogel also advises responding to body language reactions at such a moment: “When I just said that, you frowned. Do you not agree? "

And what to do if the other person does not get to the point in the torrent of words? Then I have to interrupt him - without offending him. Rolf H. Bay recommends a benevolent formulation: “I would like to understand you. Please explain to me in three sentences what exactly you mean. ”The other person will not defend themselves against such a donation. "There are two types of interruption: to change the subject - that is forbidden in this case - or, and that is desired: to clarify the context."

More than a thousand words?

Thanks to our mirror neurons, which make us compassionate creatures, we can decipher the messages on the other's face. The respective facial expression of the seven basic emotions anger, disgust, contempt, joy, sadness, fear and surprise is universal. The advantage compared to language is obvious: there are no cultural barriers. Our perception is only disturbed by physiological restrictions, for example after facial paralysis from a stroke - or botox. "If the muscle is paralyzed, it cannot send a signal to the limbic brain," explains Vogel. The principle works in both directions: When I consciously control my face, I feel accordingly. And that can be of use. Because not only through our attention, but also with the help of our facial features, we can invite the person we are talking to to open up. Those who mirror the other show empathy.

The more moving our facial expressions, the larger the resonance surface. “We seem more sympathetic because the other is more likely to go with you.” Still, we shouldn't bend overhead. People who have been coached are often targeted at making large gestures and facial expressions. Vogel advises them not to overdo it. “Then we get the feeling: something is wrong there. If there are major changes to the previous norm or if the rhythm does not fit, others will notice this intuitively. ”Training that includes video analysis can help to find the authentic measure.

Especially for introverts, it is advisable to deal with your own body language. "If I work more inward, I will shine less on the outside," says Vogel. If introverts learn to express themselves better through facial expressions and gestures, it will also be easier for those around them to understand what is going on within them. It is actually more introverted people who come to Vogel to train their body language. When it comes to facial expression reading, it is more middle or senior executives. Of course, she is occasionally asked: How can I bluff? "This is a power issue, but: I represent a certain ethic - my focus is on empathy." In any case, even the best poker face can only be regulated beyond affect.

Because micro-expressions flit across our face without our being able to influence them. With a high level of emotional involvement, they are triggered directly by our limbic system. Michaela Vogel's tip: We should pay close attention to how the boss or employee reacts to a suggestion - because a lot can be read from his face at the very first moment - even if he is a strategist. That means: look, wait for the first half second and wait for the signal. The communication trainer recommends that it is best to think about beforehand which reaction I hope or anticipate for this moment or which could be a warning signal.

As restless spirits in everyday stress, we are not open enough to observation. And when we listen, we tend to rely selectively on the spoken word, excluding anything else. “The other day I heard a TV presenter saying: 'Mr Müller seems to be calm about the developments' while moderating an interview - the signs of stress on his face were unmistakable,” Vogel cites as an example.

Let's take inner peace - take a deep breath, listen carefully and look. Let's redesign the scenarios outlined at the beginning for ourselves. Not only does it make us smarter and the people around us happier - it also saves us a lot of time in the end. And it is well known that this is best invested in breaks.