According to a recent Harvard Business Review article "What Great Listeners Actually Do" there are six levels of listening. We have adapted this (adding two levels of our own) to help you always have effective conversations.
Avoid Cliché (Level 0)
When someone asks you how you are doing, how often do you say "Fine" without a second thought? Furthermore, when you ask someone how they are doing, do you really want to know? Or are you just asking because that is a default everybody is used to? These are cliché questions and responses that are missed opportunities. Instead, by saying something intentional, you create immediate engagement. Avoid cliché questions and responses.
Create a Safe Environment (Level 1)
The more important or difficult the conversation, the more you should pay attention to the environment. Pay attention to details like privacy, comfort and neutrality. Sometimes going into the other's environment speaks volumes and builds immediate EQTunement (think about visiting a client or crawling into a child's playhouse). On the other hand, a neutral environment can be particularly important if the conversation has the potential to be hostile. Just like in construction or crisis, always think safety first.
Clear All Distractions (Level 2)
Phones, laptops, and even taking notes can hinder EQTunement. It can break eye contact, which no longer tells the other, "I see you." According to Harvard research, "This behavior not only affects how you are perceived as the listener; it immediately influences the listener’s own attitudes and inner feelings. Acting the part changes how you feel inside. This in turn makes you a better listener."
Confirm Understanding (Level 3)
Often, we pretend to understand when really we don't in order to keep the conversation going. This is a mistake that can rise up to bite you later. Don't be afraid to stop the conversation, ask clarifying questions, and confirm understanding with summaries. More often than not, your conversation partner will appreciate this as a sign of true EQTunement.
Using Mindsight (Level 4)
Mindsight is the ability to see subtle and micro non-verbal cues in order to gain further understanding of what the other might be feeling and thinking. According to the article: "The listener observes non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, perspiration, respiration rates, gestures, posture, and numerous other subtle body language signals. It is estimated that 80% of what we communicate comes from these signals. It sounds strange to some, but you listen with your eyes as well as your ears."
Validate Emotions (Level 5)
It is important to validate the other's emotions whether you perceive them to be appropriate or inappropriate. In other words, emotions themselves are neither right or wrong. It is how we respond to them that can make them appropriate or inappropriate. Using EQTunement, you can identify, acknowledge and then validate the other's emotions in a non-judgmental way. This empathy always increases the level of Collaborative Change, especially when inappropriate emotions are occurring.
Collaborative Change Talk (Level 6)
At this level, according to the article: "The listener asks questions that clarify assumptions the other person holds and helps the other person to see the issue in a new light. This could include the listener injecting some thoughts and ideas about the topic that could be useful to the other person. However, good listeners never highjack the conversation so that they or their issues become the subject of the discussion."
When EQTunement is properly used, you can begin to exchange Collaborative Change talk just as the article suggests. The more you have attuned upfront, the easier it is to eventually use the "Are we AOK?" technique.
The Speed of Trust (Level 7)
The Speed of Trust is a concept that was made popular by the FrankinCovey Co. which is built upon the universal principle of trust. Warren Buffet once said,
"Trust is like the air we breathe. When it is present nobody notices. When it is absent, everybody notices."
The more you practice EQTunement, the more you realize that effective conversations happen far in advance of the actual conversation itself because of accrued levels of trust. If you have built up trust, all your conversations will yield results that much faster. Just remember, trust and joy always go together. If there is no joy, there will be no trust. So always pay attention to how much joy you are experiencing together.