People who don’t feel heard don’t feel valued.
People who don’t feel valued don’t feel cared for.
People who don’t feel cared for don’t feel like they belong.
People who don’t feel like they belong … will find someplace they do.
Making People Feel Valued
You give a listening workshop and nobody comes. You ask people why they left a company or a relationship and they often say, “Because they don’t care about me as a person.” You ask them why they feel that way and hear, “They never listen to me.”
Making people feel heard is a free, renewable leadership resource. No fees, terrific ROI, makes you and them feel great, and gets stuff done.
No boring listening workshop here. Just the neurological, biochemical consequences of knowing how to listen but not doing it.
In part one of this series, we saw the electrical and biochemical internal pharmacy process. We saw four major chemicals that can be released (plus cortisol). Those same chemicals are at the core of making people feel heard.
There’s a huge difference between listening and making someone feel heard. You probably know that from the experience of not feeling heard by someone pretending to listen to you.
You may truly be listening, but your voice, vocabulary, body language, etc. can signal you’re not. This triggers the wrong chemical juices. If a person doesn’t feel heard, that becomes their neurological and biochemical reality. Keep in mind 90 percent of this communication happens on the subconscious level — the synapses fire and release the bad juices automatically.
Repeat this not-feeling-heard chemical bath multiple times and the neurons start forming groups called neural pathways: instantaneous roads the brain travels that link you to the negative emotional state you created. Make them feel heard multiple times and you create a positive neural pathway and become a leader they want to follow. Which road do you want their brain to travel?
Neural pathways will be created, but leaders can influence the ongoing road construction to lead to a better destination — just by how you listen. Leaders can literally dispense pharmacy DOSEs. What prescriptions are you writing?
It’s not about just being nice. It’s about getting the best ideas on the table, when and how you need them. Making people feel heard has nothing to do with agreeing with their ideas.
Master-Level Listening™: A Simple Strategy that Makes People Feel Heard
If people fear you as a leader, you only get what people think you want to hear. Master-Level Listening™ is a three-part listening strategy that works with the internal pharmacy to make people feel heard. It also helps people feel safe to give you the whole truth and bring out all the information, even the negative, that you need to hear.
Most people know how to show they’re listening. The problem is, they don’t do it.
It's the combination of listening to what people say and don’t say, identifying the emotions they are displaying, and demonstrating you get where they’re at. Identifying the emotions gives you a sense of the DOSE brain chemistry at work from part one. Making people feel heard increases creativity by triggering dopamine and serotonin.
Master-Level Listening™ accomplishes three key things. It:
- Causes people to feel heard
- Earns you the right to be heard when you speak
- Reduces barriers and produces more positive interactions
Definitely Not Easy Listening
To listen at this level is not easy and requires much more intentionality. But it lets you show up as authentically present and fully engaged. The key is, you must both listen and demonstrate that you’re listening. This is much more than simply recognizing data. You must discover all the facts, feelings, words, issues, concerns and patterns — every piece of communication a person is sending or omitting. It a level of listening most of us rarely give or receive.
You’ll see almost immediate results by taking two foundational steps: listen to understand instead of to prepare your counterattack, and demonstrate to the other person that you are listening to them. Easier said than done.
- Listen to understand instead of preparing your counterattack. Instead of thinking about what you’re going to say in response, listen in as many modes as you can to hear the content and emotions. Emotions show up in multiple modes. Listen with your:
What do you hear, e.g., what are the facts or issues? What emotions do you hear in the voice? Name the emotions (to yourself).
- Eyes (face-to-face)
What do you see? Eyes darting, avoiding eye contact (caution: this is normal for 50 percent of people)? Fidgeting? Aggression? What body language do you see? Leaning forward into your space, extending their arms, pointing at you? If their words say one thing and their body language says another, the body language is the truth.
- Gut (intuition)
We saw that 90 percent of interpersonal communication takes place on the subconscious level. So, your gut may in fact be your brain processing subconscious clues. Don’t ignore it.
Again, name the emotions to yourself. What are the positive emotions? Confidence, enthusiasm, joy? What are the negative ones? Fear, frustration, helplessness, hopelessness? Remember the internal pharmacy — cortisol, etc.
Your body can react to subliminal signals coming from the speaker, and that’s part of the message. Do you get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach? Do your muscles tense up? Does your breathing or heartrate increase? Your internal pharmacy is talking to you.
What’s your heart (the inner you) telling you?
- Demonstrate that you are listening. Most people know what to do to show they’re listening. The problem is they don’t do what they know, because what are most people doing when someone else is talking, especially in a disagreement? Yup, preparing their counterattack.
- Here’s a handful of things everyone knows to do to show they are listening. How would people score you? Are you a doer or just a knower?
- Stop typing, texting, surfing, posting — all those things that seem so necessary
- Make appropriate eye contact. Some like direct, intense eye contact, others don’t. For sure it means not looking at your watch, phone, etc.
- Make listening noises — hmm, ah, uh-huh, etc. A heavy sigh might not be a good one
- Maintain the same level — match their sitting or standing — to create an equal power perception with no intimidation
- Close your laptop lid (or silence your phone) and push it away from you (that push is a powerful subliminal signal that you’re all in)
- Take notes (get permission first and pause frequently to give eye contact)
- Turn your chair towards them or at a slight angle (some like this to be more direct, some don’t)
- Get on the same side of the table/desk if appropriate without being gimmicky
The One-Day Listening Test
In our workshop, Influence with Integrity: Developing a New Breed of Leaders, you’ll find multiple neuroscience-based tools to create this level of listening. For now, put yourself to the test with a very simple (sometimes painful) strategy. It’s often a first step to making people feel heard.
Besides being a sad way to treat human beings, it’s a direct and unnecessary hit to the financials.
For the next 24 hours, when someone is talking to you, intentionally don’t formulate any response at all until the person is finished speaking.
Yes, I did say that, and I did say it was painful.
What’s the worst that could happen? You might have to pause and think a moment before you respond. There could be worse things than people seeing you truly process their opinions before seemingly discounting them so you can counter with your own.
Leaders have the power to create empowered followers, sometimes just through Master-Level Listening™.
The High Cost of Not Listening
When people who should care stop listening, people who should matter stop talking.
Here’s a sad but true pattern. People who don’t feel heard don’t feel valued. People who don’t feel valued don’t feel cared for. People who don’t feel cared for don’t feel like they belong. People who don’t feel like they belong … will find someplace they do. A serotonin deficiency in action. The cost of listening is minimal. The cost of losing people is not.
This pattern shows up in business, families and social settings. In business, employees who don’t feel heard stop caring about trying to innovate and bring new ideas to the table. Nociceptin blocks the dopamine (motivation) receptors and people biochemically give up. In a good economy they have choices and they’ll find a workplace that values them and makes them feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves. They divorce you. And too often, you lose the very people you really want to keep.
When people who should care stop listening, people who should matter stop talking.
Endorphins are generally higher in people who feel good (valued, cared for, etc.). Cortisol, the stress hormone, is high in people under stress, e.g., from bosses who don’t listen or don't show that they value their people. They may not be bad-attitude employees, it may just be that their internal pharmacy is damaging them and saying, “Enough is enough.” Besides being a sad way to treat human beings, it’s a direct and unnecessary hit to the financials. “Management doesn’t listen” isn’t just a workforce mantra. It’s a key to the workforce pharmacy. Leaders often determine which prescriptions get dispensed.
In a marriage or significant-other relationship, when people don’t feel heard, valued, cared for and a sense of belonging, the same thing often happens. A key symptom is, “My spouse/partner doesn’t understand me.” Why don’t they feel understood? Often, because they don’t feel listened to. Eventually they biochemically give up trying to communicate and become sitting ducks for someone who makes them feel valued and important. Someone who dispenses more serotonin and oxytocin prescriptions. It can be someone who simply takes the time and energy to really listen to them. Maybe it’s a literal divorce or breakup, maybe an affair. Or it may simply turn a couple into roommates. A high price to pay for such a simple thing to fix.
How about kids? We want them to listen to us and to talk to us about what’s going on in their lives. When we multitask on our laptops, phones, etc. but say, “I’m listening,” they don’t believe us. Then when they become teenagers (or sadly much earlier nowadays) we really want them to talk to us, but it’s too late. We’ve created the pattern that shows we really aren’t listening. Their response is to really not want to talk to us or listen to us now. It’s a waste of time. Now who do they talk to and listen to? The gangs? The wrong kids doing drugs and who knows what else? Somebody who makes them feel heard, valued, cared for and that they belong. A horrific cost from the lack of a simple skill that we all know how to do.
Because even something as simple as listening triggers the DOSE chemicals in the internal pharmacy, remember …
Leadership and influence aren’t rocket science. They’re brain science.
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About the Author
- Michael Clifton is a globally experienced leadership and influence coach, culture transformation guru, speaker and trainer.
His focus is transforming leaders and corporate culture to drive tangible improvements in business metrics. With 30 years, 20 countries and over 100 companies, he fixes people issues that hurt performance.
Michael helps leaders accelerate and sustain change, motivate without manipulating, create authentic, trusting conversations and drive better team performance, collaboration and innovation. He develops leaders whom people follow because they want to, not because they have to.
Michael is recognized globally as a man of integrity, wisdom and skill, who not only changes a business, but changes people’s lives. His coaching and workshops give leaders many specific tools to create positive juices in simple, practical ways. You can reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.