The other side to communication. The side of communication that turns monologue into dialogue. The side of communication that adds to the aura of charisma for anyone who uses it. The side of communication that gets far too little attention.
I’ll tell you how critical listening skills are. I’ve never encountered a book on building a better marriage, or a therapist who specializes in healing troubled marriages, that doesn’t emphasize learning to listen effectively. In fact, one such book I recall asserts that it’s downright criminal that we don’t teach listening skills in every school in this country.
That’s hard to argue with. It’s also hard to argue with your mother, and mine used to tell me there was a reason God gave us two ears and only one mouth: So we would talk only half as much as we listen. Unfortunately, we sometimes decide we know so much that the world may tip on its axis if we don’t share what we know. So we talk. And talk. And talk.
Are You Listening?
We’d all like to think we’re good listeners. But the painful reality is that those of us who need to improve our listening skills are also the ones least likely to hear the signals that we’re falling short.
Here’s what to listen for, the signals from our loved ones and colleagues and companions that indicate we aren’t listening as effectively as we could be.
- How often does someone tell you, “That isn’t what I said”?
- How often do you catch yourself in a conversation preparing your next comment instead of focusing on what is being said to you?
- Do you ever forget information almost as soon as you’ve heard it – someone’s name, hometown, occupation.
- Do you often find that everyone else knew the details of a plan, an event, an activity – everyone except you? And, upon further checking, someone says, “I told you that last week.”
- Do you sometimes discover that everyone else recalls an event or conversation differently than you? Or more vividly than you?
- Are you guilty of multi-tasking? How often?
Any of these can be signs that your listening skills could stand improvement.
Listen To These Tips
Let’s look at the tips and techniques for becoming better listeners, what we call “active listeners”.
- Ask questions – and listen to answers. As an active listener, we must be as sensitive to the needs and concerns of our audience members as we are capable of being. We invite their involvement by seeking their input and their opinions, whether they are customers in a one-on-one situation or audience members in a larger venue. Ask for a show of hands. Poll the audience and keep a running list of their responses. Asking questions builds trust. and trust opens the door for true communication.
- Don’t interrupt – One of the clearest signals that we aren’t listening is when we jump in to add our two-cents’ worthwhile someone else is talking. And we set the stage for that in our minds, when we’re preparing our rebuttals before they’ve even completed a thought.
- Demonstrate that you’re listening – Now that you realize how easy it is to pick up the sgnals others send, make sure you’re sending signals of your own. Maintain eye contact. Nod. Smile. Lean forward. Make non-intrusive comments – “Yes”, “Exactly”, and so forth – that will not only signal your interest but will encourage the speaker to continue.
- Listen accurately – To improve the accuracy of your listening techniques, try this in your next personal and business conversations: Repeat, restate or rephrase what you thought you heard – and do so without adding your own opinion.
- Listen without distractions – We are champion multi-taskers. When we do that we cut down on the effectiveness of our listening. So stay in the moment, stay focused on the person or people you are communicating with.
- Tolerate silences/pauses – Silence is best used as a tool for giving others the time, the space, the encouragement to open up.
- Withhold judgment – A good listener is striving to understand, not judge. A good listener understands that someone with differing views always has something to teach us.
Grab a friend or colleague and check your active listening skills. Ask the person to talk to you about something, anything, for two minutes. Then make an effort to repeat what was said to you. Begin by saying, “Here is what I heard…” and end with, “Is that what you said?”
Then keep the exercise going until your friend tells you that you got it right. Afterward, ask your friend for additional feedback. Did you:
- Give physical clues that you were listening? A nod, eye contact.
- Indicate in any nonverbal way that you disagreed with what was being said?
- Repeat their message back to them without adding your own opinion?
- Act distracted at any time?
The Payoffs of Good Listening
- We learn more
- Others listen to us more
- We build trust
- We retain more information
- We encourage others to open up
- Others will be more interested in us
No matter how good a listener you are today, there is always room to improve and to grow. Make a commitment today to expand that part of your toolbox. It will enhance every part of your life.
Personally, as I have learned to listen more and better, I have discovered great enjoyment in all my interactions and greater rewards in meeting my own objectives.
Finally, remember this: If you are a good listener, you will always be perceived as an interesting person. Simply by being interested, you will be judge interesting.
If you’re serious about advancing your skills and making an investment in yourself, we invite you to our Excellence in Speaking Institute. Classes are filling up quickly in 2018 so don’t delay! Visit this page to read feedback from our graduates about their experience.