Self-Awareness: The Key to Better Listening

Woman looking in mirror

By Ruth Ballard, PowerUp Leadership

Communication is the backbone of all relationships, personal or professional. We notice the need for communication most clearly when we see it break down, creating confusion, anxiety, and conflict that prevent teams from reaching their full potential. To resolve communication mishaps, a common impulse is to focus on explaining our positions and thought processes to provide clarity. While clear, open, and expressive communication is essential to maintaining effective relationships, the best way to avoid communication mishaps is to listen.

Listening seems like a very simple concept, and in many ways, it is. But in a professional capacity, the quality of our listening skills can spell the difference between a cohesive and happy work environment, or one with frequent conflict and lack of trust. By focusing on active listening, we can dramatically improve the effectiveness of our team conversations. Active listening is the practice of making sure another person feels truly heard. When someone speaks, an active listener shows them not only that was their intended message was conveyed, but that their perspective is understood and appreciated.

Being an active listener means more than just paying attention when others speak. Building listening skills requires a developed self-awareness. Self-awareness allows us to address how we receive information and in turn, how we respond to it. We all filter conversation through biases, values, and judgments influenced by our own experiences. When we encounter information that challenges our beliefs, we can experience a defensive emotional reaction, making assumptions without hearing what another person is truly saying. Self-awareness gives us the tools to address internal communication barriers by recognizing and managing our emotions, allowing us to have more constructive conversations, build better relationships, and practice thoughtful leadership.  

So how can we cultivate self-awareness, and use it to improve our communication? Effective listening is a difficult skill that takes time and practice to develop, and keeping our biases and strong feelings in check can be equally challenging. Fortunately, there are a few steps we can take to listen and communicate more mindfully. 

Firstly, we can aim to be honest with ourselves. We can acknowledge our biases and the judgments we tend to make without harshly judging ourselves, and understand that everyone around us operates from an equally specific worldview. Along those same lines, we can practice perspective-taking. Imagining how others perceive our role in a situation or conflict can help us combat emotion-driven biases and see the bigger picture. We might be able to identify what triggered our strong feelings, or what may have triggered a strong reaction in someone else.  

To listen more consciously and recover after a communication mishap, we benefit from taking a realistic and empathetic perspective on others’ involvement. However, our imagination has its limits, and cannot replace dialogue with our team members. We can develop curiosity about others’ perspectives by asking questions and giving affirmative feedback when someone shares their viewpoint with us. Considering how we would want someone else to react to our own contributions can give us good ideas about how to enact a response. 

Another strategy to improve awareness is to seek insight from someone outside the situation who may recognize biases we cannot see in ourselves. A third party can offer a more objective look at our position, as well as others’ involvement, and identify steps to improve understanding and collaboration. A coach is a great example of someone qualified to make sense of a team’s dynamic, direct self-awareness and self-discovery, and help develop communication and listening skills. 

PowerUp Leadership specializes in multiplying your leaders to grow your business. Schedule a free consultation with CEO & Founder, Susan Power, and discuss how PowerUp Leadership can help develop your organization’s communication strategy.

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