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Forget Active Listening. Try Invested Listening.

As we learn and grow and time passes, it is important to revisit well-established concepts and update them for the current moment. In today's always on environment of constant distraction leaders must focus more than ever on the fundamentals. This series aims to do just that, starting with active listening.

Effective communication is a core leadership concept. From compelling storytelling to interacting and collaborating with others, there are several key skillsets to master - not the least of which is listening. Reviewing the literature on this topic, we can see that the consensus has landed on the concept of active listening which means: "the practice of preparing to listen, observing what verbal and non-verbal messages are being sent, and then providing appropriate feedback for the sake of showing attentiveness to the message being presented. This form of listening conveys a mutual understanding between speaker and listener."

From this definition we can unpack the following needed skills:

  • Preparation: Having appropriate time and space for the conversation and considering any resources to enhance understanding such as visual aids, etc.

  • Observation: The ability to read and react to what is being said both verbally and non-verbally.

  • Replay: Demonstrating understanding by repeating the salient points communicated.

  • Feedback: Providing your thoughts related to what's been said.

Active listening sounds like this - "Hi Lena, I'm looking forward to this dialogue with you. My calendar is cleared, and I'm prepared to give you my total focus and attention. I can hear from your tone of voice and see from your body language that talking about this is important to you. What I've heard so far is that you feel...I agree with many of the points you've made..."

As you can see, this form of listening is surely superior to listening to respond or merely pretending to listen, but it doesn't go far enough. When we communicate, we also need acknowledgement, alignment, and validation. We need to know that our listeners are more than active, they are fully engaged in what we have to say. Which is why it's time to embrace another form of listening - invested listening.

Invested listening is listening with the intent to agree, validate, align, collaborate, and support. It elevates the core skills of active listening and aims them at a goal to help and bolster the communicator.

Invested listening therefore requires these skills:

  • Intention: Going beyond preparation and articulating that you intend to remain supportive regardless of what is communicated.

  • Validation: Affirming that the thoughts being articulated not only make sense but are fully valid.

  • Agreement: Actively seeking areas of commonality and agreement to reinforce throughout the dialogue.

  • Collaboration: Enhancing communication by leveraging your strengths, skills, and knowledge in support of their needs.

  • Support: Being specific about how you will act in service of the communicators needs moving forward from the conversation.

Invested listening sounds like this - "Hi Lena, you have my full attention but more than that my full and unwavering assistance. What I'm hearing from you is X,Y,Z and these points make total sense - thank you for sharing. Not only do I agree with the following points (replay them), but I can empathize with why you are bringing them up. Based on that, I believe that a potential way for us to collaborate on this would be...(what do you think)? And you can count on me for my continued support in the following ways moving forward..."

When you leverage invested listening as a leader your people will leave the interaction with the knowledge that you not only understood them, but validated them, and added your support. Taking action from conversation is the hallmark of invested listening. And it is this action that transforms listening into a key aspect of your leadership toolbox.

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