Dr. Alan Watkins writes on the science of coherent leadership which encompasses a wide range of areas brought together to help individuals in business increase their developmental levels and be more personally effective. Alan is an honorary senior lecturer in neuroscience and psychological medicine at Imperial College, London and originally qualified as a physician. Alan worked with the Great Britain rowing squad prior to the London Olympics and provides continued guidance to the coaches in advance of Rio 2016. He is the founder and CEO of Complete Coherence.

The vast majority of us never really listen when someone else is talking. This can cause us to feel disconnected from the people we spend a lot of time with.

What we actually do when we should be listening, is think or prepare our own response. For most people communication is therefore a combination of talking and waiting to speak. We are trained transmitters; it’s what we were taught as children and we’ve become very good at it as adults.

It is clear from the number of miscommunications, misunderstandings and misinterpretations that occur in our relationships, that our listening skills are poor. If we have been on an active listening programme we may have been taught to concentrate on the words people use, but this is only approximately seven percent of the message.

Even if we manage to detect the accompanying tone and body language we still don’t have all the data. Beneath this surface lie the thoughts and feelings behind the tone, words, and body language.

The most valuable part of communication is actually the meaning behind what that person is saying, how they are acting, and how they are feeling. If you develop the ability to detect this meaning then it will vigorously enhance your relationships, and your career.

But how do you do it?

This is where the MAP skill comes in. MAP is an acronym for a three-step process.

1. The first step is that you must stop listening to your own internal noise and tune in more deeply to the person speaking. Rather than chasing your own thoughts or preconceived ideas or judgements, the instant the other person starts talking Move your attention away from the noise in your head and drop it into your body; more specifically the centre of your chest focusing on your breathing.

This is important because as you focus on your breathing, you are changing your physiology. Your biology shifts from a state of chaos, with an erratically fluctuating heart rate, to a more coherent state with a dynamically stable heart rate. This reduces the internal noise in your system so the incoming signal (the speaker’s message) to your noise (your own biology) ratio changes.

2. Step 2 requires you to activate a state of Appreciation for the speaker. If you generate a warm feeling of appreciation in your body and radiate it out towards the speaker they should be able to detect it. This non-judgmental positive regard will often settle the speaker, making them feel more comfortable and two very interesting things will often occur. The speaker will open up and reveal more information and, because they don’t feel threatened, they will often deliver their message better.

3. Once the speaker has stopped talking, you should Playback what you think the speaker may have meant, to check that you have completely understood what they were saying. This playback should focus on what you sensed at the deeper level and not as a statement, assertion of fact, or judgement. 

These three simple steps, if followed correctly, can have a huge positive impact on the effectiveness of your interactions. On the other hand, bad listening skills can be catastrophic; it could mean that you miss someone’s anger or annoyance and leave the other person feeling undervalued and demotivated.

Next time you have a conversation, try to MAP that person’s communication and see what happens. You’ll be amazed at how much it will enhance your relationship and the value of the communication.   

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