Many of us are not wired to be great listeners; we either are lacking appropriate empathy or we’re busy pondering our rebuttal. Either way, the deck is stacked against us because the average human can listen about twice as quickly as the average Joe can speak. Many of us are natural born helpers, and we cannot wait to begin helping when someone is trying to tell us about a problem that they are having. Everyone wants to be heard and understood. Take the time, listen to their words, watch their facial expressions and their body language. Attentively!
1. In this age of 7X24 digital connectivity, the distractions are everywhere and the temptation to isolate ourselves by paying attention to our devices is enormous. Remember, that even before all of these gadgets, the average Joe could only retain about 10% of what was said in a brief conversation. Commit to becoming a better listener first, than engage in REALLY listening with your ears, your eyes and with your soul. Listen to the words, watch the signs and absorb the tone.
2. Go slow to go fast! If you’re a helper, you will leap ahead of the conversation to begin your effort to aid your co-conversationalist before they’ve even finished telling you their problem. They may be telling you about three problems and you’re already plotting how to resolve problem one. Go slow! After you’ve REALLY listened, you’ll know what the problems are, and THEN you can help!
3. One of the best ways to indicate that you care about the person you’re speaking with is by listening closely and occasionally clarifying what they’re saying by saying something like, “So, if I understand you, Jane, you’re saying _______, am I understanding you correctly?”.
4. Prepare for a conversation whenever possible. Empty your head of distractions by writing down work in progress, etc. to clear the decks. Many of us fear going blank in a crucial conversation, so prevent that by jotting down the questions you’d like to ask and the points you want to make. Remember that a great conversation involves both parties, and commit to speaking less than the other person, whenever possible. Remind yourself to drop your assumed bias and enter the conversation relaxed and open and candid. Focus on coming out of the conversation with both of you winning and focus on being a GREAT listener. Set aside your mobile devices, phones and tablets, and make the conversation a priority. Now remember that you have two ears and one mouth in proportion for a very good reason. You’re ready!
5. We’ve all spoken to someone or to a group and felt that they weren’t interested or didn’t care, or just weren’t listening. Don’t let that happen. Give your partner verbal and non-verbal clues that you’re listening with intent by nodding, agreeing, making eye contact, maintaining an open body language posture and by asking questions and offering comments that follow the conversation. Respond with appropriate respect and honor the person by showing them that you are paying attention to them while they are speaking. This will go a long way to building trust and paving the path to a stronger relationship with anyone you engage in dialogue with.
6. A great way to demonstrate that you’re listening with care is to summarize the conversation as it nears its end. This is particularly useful when the conversation has been either lengthy or complex in its content. You can do this by saying something like, “OK, Bill, I want to just summarize a bit before we break, to ensure that we’re both clear about what we’ve discussed, so we’re going to do X, Y and Z in the next two weeks, is my understanding correct?”. If you’re not correct, Bill will let you know and you can move forward with understanding what was communicated.