This is a great activity to get your team thinking about how deeply we listen in the course of our everyday communications.
Explain to your team that whenever another person is speaking to us, we will always listen to them at one of five different levels.
Give them the handout, or draw up the diagram on a whiteboard or flipchart, and talk them through the different levels.
Now, split the team in half. One half of the team are speakers, the other half are listeners.
Give the listeners a card each so there is an even mix of numbers, and ask them not to disclose the number on the card. Explain that the number on the card correlates to a level of listening, and the listener’s job is to model this style of listening while they are being spoken to. 1s should ignore the people who are speaking to them, 5s should listen empathetically, and so on.
Ask the speakers to speak to any of the listeners about any topic that interests them – be it work-related, the weather, or anything else. Their job is to guess the listening level of as many people in the room as possible.
Give the team five minutes to move around the room, speaking and listening to each other. You should hear some laughter as ignorers try to be absolutely disconnected, and others on lower levels try to distract others from their conversations!
Bring the group back together and ask who thought they guessed the most. Listeners should then show their numbers to see who guessed right.
Ask the speakers how the exercise felt. They will comment that it feels bad and is difficult to talk when another person isn’t really listening, and that empathetic listening encouraged them to talk more.
Now, ask the listeners how that exercise felt. Those on lower numbers will probably comment that the exercise was quite easy but didn’t feel very good! Those on higher numbers will probably comment that it’s quite hard to listen empathetically, especially when there were so many distractions around them.
Ignoring is being so distracted you are not listening to the other person at all – for example, a customer is talking but another colleague is trying to talk to you at the same time, and you are focused on the conversation with your colleague.
Pretend Listening is when you are giving the impression that you’re listening to the other person – for example, by saying “I see” or “OK” to a customer as they are talking, while you are actually focused on writing an email.
Selective Listening is when you are only listening out for things you want to hear, agree with, or like to hear from the other person – for example, switching off when a customer starts talking at length about something you find uninteresting, or jumping to conclusions about what a customer needs as soon as they say something that sounds like a familiar issue, without taking the time to really hear them.
Attentive Listening is one of the most common levels of questioning we all use. It happens when you are listening to another person, but internally you are thinking about what you are going to say next – whether you agree or disagree, and how you will reply to what they’re saying. An example would be when a customer is talking about an issue, you feel you have got a handle on what they need but you are so busy figuring out what you’re going to say next you’re not fully considering their situation.
Empathetic Listening is the most difficult level of listening as it requires you to remove your own perspective from the conversation, put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and listen to the other person from their perspective. An example would be when a customer is calling about an issue that is familiar to you, but you can understand how familiar and confusing the issue might be to them, and listen carefully for things they are saying which allow you to see the problem through their eyes.