Listen to Understand.  Stephen Covey coined this phrase, and it became a communications staple in leadership courses I taught over the years.  My experience tells me it is much harder to do in the current, sell, tell, yell world that we experience today.

So, What is the Alternative? Judith E. Glaser, based on her life-long study of anthropology, neuroscience, and leadership suggests that a better way to listen is beyond understanding. She calls it, “Listen to Connect.”  It was one of those Aha moments for me. This alternative way to describe listening can be applied in the workplace, our homes, and our communities.

What Makes “Listening to Connect”  Different?  All too frequently, we “listen to understand” with the goal of influencing others, not opening ourselves to another point of view, thinking or feeling.  Connecting means to listen without judgment, avoiding assumptions and checking in to make sure we give meaning to the same words.  It means abandoning the trial or assumptive close and asking “questions without answers” that leads to “and” vs. “or” solutions.

There is Chemistry in Our Conversations.  Chemistry in conversations is nothing new.  We all remember that date or new client where the chemistry wasn’t there.  When we “listen to connect,” our interactions lead to increased production of the feel-good hormone oxytocin, increasing our ability to access the pre-frontal cortex, the brain’s powerhouse.  This is the part of the brain where higher levels of shared communication, trust, and innovation reside. Many of us would describe it as that buzz or electricity which is created when we are on the same wave-length with others.

There is a Dark Side to Our Chemistry.  Conversely, when we are subject to unfounded assumptions, rejected or ignored by our manager, engaged in a heated argument or led to a  proposed solution, our body responds by producing higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  These higher levels of cortisol minimize our ability to access the thinking part of our brain.  The result is poor decisions, fear of risk, lack of innovative thinking, a tendency to amplify the negative and ultimately distrust.

What are Some Ways You Can Listen to Connect?

  1. Periodically check in with your thoughts and feelings as you are listening to the other person. Our thoughts and feelings translate into words and actions, including voice tone and body language.  If you find yourself going into judgment or preparing your counterpoint, refocus on the other person.
  2. Check for understanding when a word or point of view triggers anger, withdrawal or defensiveness. Words can create unintended meanings.
  3. Use open-ended questions that can spark new thinking and generate production of oxytocin for yourself and others in the conversation: What if…?  What does success look like for you?  What is your experience?

So what kind of neurochemical cocktails are you mixing up for your employees, your co-workers, your family?  Listen to Connect is a potent ingredient for building trust so you and others can maximize the power of differences and increase trust. Now there’s a “Happy Hour” everyone one can enjoy!

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