Listening Skills Ground Rules
In last week’s blog post, Tortoise and Hare Listening, I said that having ground rules for listening might increase the likelihood that people would actually pay attention to the expectations and needs of one another during an interaction and experience improved listening skills.
It’s not such a crazy idea. Groups establish ground rules for meetings and workshops to make assumptions explicit. A ground rule gives direction about how someone is expected to behave. For example, a common one is “Do not interrupt.” Ostensibly, that gives members of the group permission to point it out when someone speaks over others. Just having that as a ground rule indicates to the group that interrupting behavior will not be tolerated, and will heighten attention to avoid displaying that unwelcome trait.
That set me to thinking about listening ground rules that might be helpful:
- Identify the purpose– determine with your partner(s) what you’re both listening for and what you want to get out of the interaction
- Obey the listening golden rule: Listen to others as they would have you listen to them—don’t project your desires and biases on others
- Ask permission to take notes and be willing to share what you’ve written
- Give undivided attention—no gadgets, fidgeting, side-conversations
- Make body language invitational instead of armor-like
- Inquire more, advocate less
- Tell others when you’re losing your ability to listen and request a physical break
I posted these at a recent two-hour meeting and asked if we could try them out to see if it was a good idea and how they’d influence the meeting. Everyone agreed to try them, and afterwards we took an extra fifteen minutes for debrief. There were many more responses than expected, but here are the most frequently said ones:
- The list was intimidating at first because we (5 people) wanted to do it “right,” but after a while we got embroiled in the conversation and the list just served as a guide.
- Everyone really liked the listening golden rule—e.g. “Now I see that I get impatient when people don’t listen the way I want them to.”
- Several people said they wanted to ask for a break, but thought they couldn’t.
- Many noticed that there were more people who allowed others to finish a thought than usual.
- The undivided attention rule was hardest to follow and sustain.
What others would you include? How do you think they’ll be received?