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Listen. Do You Want to Know a Secret?

When people talk to you, do you hear everything they’re communicating? Do you recognize the meaning in people’s voices as well as their words to understand what they’re really telling you?

Once you’ve known someone for a while you can often “hear” their voice as you read their emails or their Facebook posts. But to really hear someone’s voice and get a sense of their true reaction, mood, or opinion, there’s nothing like a phone call. And by that I mean an old-fashioned phone call — not Skype — with only audio and no picture.

Hear the Meaning, Not Just the Sound

You can sense all kinds of things about people if you pay close attention to their voices over the phone, whether the call is a first meeting or you already have a relationship. Conference calls can be even more revealing if you listen closely as people respond to each other.

In just three phone calls over the past few days, I’ve witnessed power struggles, frustration, relief, an overpowering need to tell one’s story, fear of failure, gratitude, guilty recognition, confusion, resentment, a kind of relaxing into genuine acceptance of the facts of a situation, and the willingness to figure out what’s next. I experienced those 270 minutes of human emotion and drama without ever having to leave my office.

Active Listening

Focusing on the tone and tenor of someone’s voice can help you understand what’s really going on with that person, particularly when their vocal quality contradicts their specific words. Just getting that sound print can help you decide how best to participate in the interaction: when to probe, when to press, and when to calm or comfort.

By tuning in to people’s pacing and volume rather than looking at their carefully composed, apparently neutral faces, you can glean a lot of information that might otherwise miss. Even a voice that is incredibly well modulated can provide clues to that person’s true feelings and what they really mean. (For more on vocal cues and clues, see 4 Aspects of Managing Your Fight-or-Flight Response and The Listening Post, Part I: Four Crucial Aspects of Understanding and How to Get Your Point Across without Poking a Hole in Anyone.)

Can You Hear Me Now?

In the well-known Verizon Wireless ads, the guy with the cell phone asked constantly, “Can you hear me now?” He was referring to connection, of course, but the kind of connection that matters is not only about how well you and the person on the other end of the line can hear each other’s voices. It’s about listening to the voices themselves, and then using those nuances to form an accurate and empathetic understanding of what’s really being said.

Onward and upward,

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2 thoughts on “Listen. Do You Want to Know a Secret?

  1. Hi there, thanks for this article! Mindful listening is of outmost importance not only in the workplace but also in private life! Jenny

  2. Thank you, Jenny, for commenting. You’re right about mindful listening being important in all aspects of life. Luckily, we can practice it with anyone, wherever we are!

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