We coach C-Level Executives and Emerging Leaders for a living. We have plenty of opportunities to witness the listening skills of those CEOs and newer Managers and Leaders. Unfortunately, many of those C-Suite Executives and Emerging Leaders are not exactly wired to be great listeners; sometimes they’re lacking empathy for the other person, or occasionally they’re too busy pondering their next move or their rebuttal. Sometimes they’re too distracted to be understanding the message their colleague is delivering. That is very unfortunate because every person that we work with wants very badly to be seen, heard, and understood on the road to becoming valued and appreciated. Weak listening skills and the inability to listen attentively when we’re in a conversation or a meeting really puts us at a distinct disadvantage. Don’t accept that disadvantage, you don’t have to. Remember, there isn’t a person on this planet who doesn’t desperately want and need to be heard, and understood. You might want to take the time to read on, and we discuss some of the best practices for understanding what your people are trying to tell you.
- In this age of 7X24 digital connectivity, distractions are relentless, and they are pervasive everywhere. There is a constant powerful temptation to isolate ourselves by paying attention to our devices and inadvertently disappear from the people who are in proximity to us. Remember, that even before all of these gadgets, the average Joe could only retain about 10% of what was said in a brief conversation. Given that dismal truth, we need to make communicating with others an even greater urgency and a constant priority. Make the commitment 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. This is important to keep in mind because the true meaning of what someone is trying to tell us is only 7% of the actual words crossing their lips. Where is the rest of the meaning coming from? Great question. 38% of the meaning is driven by the para verbal items, things like the speed at which the speaker is talking, the tone of their voice, the inflections of their voice, rising and falling, and so forth. The remainder of the meaning, an astonishing 55% is driven home by body language. Consider whether you’re making eye contact, nodding your head in agreement, showing facial expressions to indicate that you are listening, agreeing, understanding, and so forth. You must commit to paying proper attention to everything in a conversation and being solidly present and connected with your audience. Period.
- Go slow to go fast! If you’re a helper ( and I know from experience that many of you are), you will leap ahead of the conversation to begin your effort to aid your co-conversationalist before they’ve even finished telling you their story. They may be trying to tell you about three problems and you’re already plotting how to resolve problem one before they begin to describe problems two and three. Go slow! Calm yourself and settle in for a deep understanding. You can make the time to listen to others so that you can REALLY hear them, REALLY understand them, and then, after you’ve REALLY listened, you’ll know what their problems are, and THEN you can really help them solve them! In my experience, too many of us rush to judgment, and we rush to begin talking when we could be listening and developing an even deeper and much more valuable appreciation for the situation that our colleague is telling us about. Stay patient and learn much more about the topic you’re conversing about, you’ll be surprised how much more you can learn, and how much more you can help, when you slow down to go fast.
- Don’t listen through your paradigms. Sometimes our listening suffers because we are judging the words as they come out of the speaker’s mouth. We can often filter another’s words by running them through our assumptions, beliefs, and expectations. Open your mind and relax. You do NOT have to rush to judgment. There will be plenty of time for that later if the judgment is even necessary. Sometimes it’s NOT. Sometimes all you need to do is listen and understand and provide support to your colleague, and there is no call for judgment. Life is more fun when you let the other human beings on this planet share their wisdom with you, so listen openly! I’ve learned so much from so many, that I honestly cannot count the number of times I was fortunate to have been patient enough to let the conversation develop far enough so that I could learn something valuable. You’ll benefit tremendously by listening without your judgment evaluating every nuance, and by coming to conclusions later in the listening process.
- 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, 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.
Michael Beach is a Master’s Professional Business Coach and a Leadership Development and Executive Presence Consultant. Michael founded a Coaching and Consulting firm, Michael Beach Coaching, and Consulting, with seasoned coaches located around the country, in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, and Minnesota. Michael’s coaches help clients with their health and wellness, with their management and leadership skills, their business acumen in running a business and so many other valuable areas, that they are too numerous to list. If you’d like to have a conversation with Michael, or with one of his outstanding coaches, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org, we’ll be happy to talk with you and see how we can contribute to your growth and your ultimate success in accomplishing your goals.
If you’re enjoying this discussion about listening and how to sharpen your listening skills and become a more present, more focused participant in the conversations going on around you, keep your eyes peeled for the next in our series of blog articles about the magic of listening and learning to understand what your People are trying to communicate to you. We hope to see you again soon!