The Art of Listening: Ideas for Leaders on the Impact of Being Present

RPEC Conflict Resolution Training – A “4 Part Listening” Recap

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My colleague Lindsey and I recently had the opportunity to attend Richmond Peace Education Center’s Two-Day Conflict Resolution Training, designed to strengthen communication, active and empathetic listening, and conflict problem-solving skills. It was an insightful and engaging 2 days, but one of the activities that resonated with me the most was an activity called “Four Part Listening.”

Now, in general I’d like to think I am a pretty good listener. I stare down at my phone or computer while someone is talking from time to time (you know, millennial multitasking) but for the most part, I am actively listening and engaged in a conversation, body language and all.

What I loved most about 4 Part Listening is that it forces you to actively and closely listen to what someone is saying by giving you the opportunity to listen for something specific. In a nutshell, one person is assigned the task of answering a question (speaker) while the three other group members listen for one of the following: content (listener A), facts and details (listener B), or values and needs (listener C). It may seem simple, but how many times are you engaged in a conversation but walk about not truly understanding what you’ve heard? Or, how many times have you spoken to someone and realized they understood none of what you said?

3 keys to close listening

  • it is not just hearing the words

  • it is about discerning what is important TO THE PERSON SPEAKING

  • it is about understanding what they value and need

4 Part listening is important as we engage daily in conversation with those around us, but it is particularly important for those in leadership roles who desire to really understand the people they work along side, both staff and leadership. At The Spark Mill, when we are helping clients through organizational change, we often ask them to look at how they engage with their staff and ways these encounters may be strengthened. One way to do this is to consider the ways in which you listen to employees in your organization – by not just hearing what they are saying, but working to discern what their true values and needs are.

During this activity, I shared my personal story about being a black woman dedicated to bringing the narratives and experiences of other black women into urban planning and why this mattered to me. For about 3 minutes I had the opportunity to share the story of the community I belong to. Afterwards, my group members had to repeat what facts, values, and needs they heard me express. Although a short exercise, hearing what they said made me feel seen and acknowledged; I appreciated their investment and time in closely listening to my experiences.

During this activity, I shared my personal story about being a black woman dedicated to bringing the narratives and experiences of other black women into urban planning and why this mattered to me. For about 3 minutes I had the opportunity to share the story of the community I belong to. Afterwards, my group members had to repeat what facts, values, and needs they heard me express. Although a short exercise, hearing what they said made me feel seen and acknowledged; I appreciated their investment and time in closely listening to my experiences.

As a leader of an organization, you are often faced with a million and one tasks, and while it may seem daunting, included in those tasks should be taking time to hear your employees. Not just listening to them talk about their experiences at work, even though this is important. Take some time to hear who they are, where they come from, and their personal stories and journeys. Many times, it actually informs why they do the work they do, and as a leader you may be able to discern their values and needs and use that as an opportunity to understand how they align with your organization’s work.

Need some guidance on better connecting with your employees? We are here to help!