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Enhance Your Listening Skills: The Art of Lazy Listening

written byRaymond Honingson 01/12/2017

We’ve all heard terms like deep listening, reading between the lines or listen for what is not being said. This is all true and very useful, but sometimes is presented as something that is very complicated and challenging to learn. Where is the fun in that? Let me share a different perspective on listening and actually listen to what IS being said but may not always draw our attention. I call that lazy listening.

Lazy listening is paying attention to the first 10 seconds of a question or problem that someone shares with you. Whenever someone asks you a question or presents a problem that they need help with your mind usually does one of two things:

  1. Halfway through the story it comes up with all kind of solutions to the question presented. This is not a strange thing to happen since our brain is wired to look for patterns and things we recognize and then to quickly make sense out of it from our own frame of reference.
  2. Triggers a need to respond. Believe it or not, most of us listen to respond instead of listening to understand.

Now, when you are trained in the art of coaching you probably notice these responses, hold back and truly coach. However, most of our leaders are not trained in these skills and just follow their natural responses like mentioned above.

Through my coaching practice, I’ve found that a lot of people start with sharing their limiting beliefs before asking their question or problem. To make it even more interesting, most people are not even aware that this is what they do. This question or problem usually is just an effect of their limiting beliefs. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be stuck and have come up with a solution already. Let me share two examples to illustrate what I mean and to show how easy it is to practice lazy listening.

I was coaching a senior manager whose question was “How can I help my assistant manager to feel confident presenting in front of large audiences and senior management?”. He already helped his assistant manager with preparing, getting the right content, tone of voice, and body language, but all of this didn’t have the desired effect. Funny enough his assistant manager always did an amazing job presenting for her own team. When I asked him what was the question she came to him with, his answer was “As you know I am the youngest on the team, I don’t have all the knowledge regarding the topic and might not have all the answers to question people may ask, and I don’t know the senior managers. I need some help preparing the content of my presentation?”. Now, guess what his brain did? “Oh, I recognize a question to which I have the answer”. Guess what he did? He helped her prepare the content. The real question here is, do you recognize the limiting beliefs that really are the issue here?

When I did a little practice run of lazy listening he got it right away. When we met again four weeks later he said it made the world of difference to coach his assistant manager on limiting beliefs instead of content curation. He did find it challenging, coaching on limiting beliefs, but much more rewarding. It even deepened his relationship with his assistant manager, he said.

Another simple example is people saying “That will never work,” without even trying it. Our natural behaviour is to prove them wrong and we usually end up in a battle of opinions. A better way is to create the environment for lazy listening by simply responding “How do you know?”. For me, this is one of the most powerful questions because it helps to flush out the limiting beliefs behind the statement “That will never work”. Specifically, when you repeat that question a couple of times.

In essence, lazy listening is hunting for limiting beliefs which are usually the true cause of someone going through the experience of getting stuck at something.

The benefit? You become super-efficient in listening and more impactful in your responses. Imagine what might happen if you apply this skill in meetings. How much more quality will the attendees get out of these meetings?

Does this always work? No, not all people follow the “rules” and present their limiting beliefs only at the end of their question or randomly throughout their story. But now you know what to do.