Many of us are not wired to be great listeners; often we are busy considering how we’re going to craft our response, we lack attention and empathy. If one of those statements describes you, the deck is stacked against you. The deck is stacked because the average human can listen about twice as quickly as the average Joe can speak. Many of us are natural born advice givers, and we cannot wait to begin helping when someone is trying to tell us about a problem that they are having. Remember that above all else, people want us to listen. They want to be heard, they want us to be present in the moment, and they want badly to be deeply understood. Take the time, listen to their words, watch their facial expressions and their body language. Do these things attentively, and you will enjoy better results!
- Be Present: In this age of 7X24 digital connectivity, the distractions are everywhere. The temptation exists to inadvertently isolate ourselves by paying too much attention to our devices. The temptation to stay connected is enormous. Remember, that even before all of these gadgets, the average person could only retain about 10% of what was said in a brief conversation. Get the numbers working in your favor. Commit to becoming a better listener, right now. Then commit to engaging in better listening the kind that involves listening with your ears, your eyes and with your soul. Listen to the words, watch the signs and absorb the tone.
- Go slow to go fast:If you’re a helper, you might leap ahead of the conversation and begin your effort to aid your co-conversationalist before they’ve even finished telling you their problem. They may be in the middle of telling you about three problems and you’re already plotting how to resolve problem one. Don’t be that person. Stay in the moment and resist the urge to get ahead and start solving. Go slow! After you’ve REALLY listened, you’ll know what the problems are, what the root cause is for each problem, and THEN you can help! Don’t start solving the wrong problems, stay with the conversation and you’ll be able to get to the root cause.
- Paraphrase what you think you just heard: 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. You can easily do this by saying something like, “So, if I understand you, Jane, you’re saying _______, am I understanding you correctly?” Jane will let you know if you are on the same page, and if you’re not, trust me, she will let you know that you did not grasp her meaning completely. Either way, you are now one step closer to a deep mutual understanding.
- 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 must be bi-directional, not unilateral. Commit yourself to speaking less than the other person, whenever possible. Give them a chance to say their piece and listen intently. Remind yourself to drop any potential assumptions and biases, then enter the conversation relaxed, open and candid. Focus on coming out of the conversation on the back end with EVERYONE winning. Focus on being a GREAT listener. Set aside your mobile devices, phones and tablets, making the conversation your #1 priority. Finally, remember that you have two ears and one mouth in proportion, and for a very good reason. Now you’re ready and can make the most of the conversation!
- Listen: 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 with you. Give your conversation partner verbal and non-verbal clues that you’re listening with intent. Indicate that you’re listening by nodding your understanding, indicating agreement, making eye contact, maintaining an open body language posture and by asking questions. Be sure to offer insightful comments and ask intelligent questions 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 toward building trust and paving the path to a stronger relationship with anyone you engage in dialogue with.
- Summarize and Clarify: A great way to demonstrate that you’ve been 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 that 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. This will ensure that the two of you can move forward with understanding about what was communicated and what happens next.
If you are one of those who is not going to be named to the Listeners Hall of Fame any time soon, you would do well to focus a bit of attention on learning to become a more actively engaged listener. The benefits will be nearly immediate and they can be long lasting. There is no better way to signal your respect for another person than to give them the gift of your attention. Listening is a great habit to get into, it eliminates confusion, reduces mistakes, removes the need to apologize so often, and many other great benefits. Really, there is NO downside, so get busy developing your listening skills and get busy listening better! You’ll be glad you did, but more importantly, so will your spouse, your kids, your co-workers and your customers.
Michael is an award winning Business Coach in Minnesota who specializes in working with mid-sized technology sector companies who are growing and wish to develop their next generation of managers and leaders. Michael coaches CEOs, their leadership teams, and the next generation of leaders for companies who want to accelerate their lead over their competition. If you’d like to leave your competition in the dust, contact Michael at email@example.com. Michael will be leading a workshop on January 27, 2017 that will help you recognize your own behaviors and understand those of the people around you so that you can get more done working with others, with less conflict and stress. Michael Beach Coaching & Consulting, “Delivering Ambitious Results.”