You just can’t say enough about the value of listening. Learning how to listen is one of the essential skills for success in life, both personally and professionally. Of course, many of our waking hours are spent communicating — we’re talking and replying all the time, all of which involves listening. So you might wonder, what’s to learn? But how much time do we spend really listening to what’s being said?
When we listen to people, we’re usually doing one of the following:
- Partial listening – we listen only to those parts of the conversation that interest us and ignore the rest.
- Judging – while listening to someone speak, we maintain an internal deliberation about whether or not we like or agree with what we’re hearing. This means we’re filtering the speaker’s information through our experiences, agenda and belief system rather than paying attention.
- Questioning – while listening, we’re jumping ahead in our mind with questions: “What does this mean?” “Why is he saying that?” “What really happened?” We do this to try to figure out how the speaker’s information is going to affect us. Again, our listening is more about us than about the other person.
How many conversations go something like this:
John: Hi David. What’s doing?
David: Nothing much.
John: How is business?
David: Not bad. How is it going in your place?
John: It’s been tough. You know the competition is eating us up lately.
David: You know, we had the same issues a while ago. It’s not easy.
John: Yep, that’s life.
David: What can you do?
John: You just have to take it one day at a time.
David: Talk to you soon.
John: Take care.
When you analyze this conversation, you see:
- John and David are not at all interested in each other.
- Their questions are meant to see how they stand in comparison to each other (“Is my business doing better than his?” or “Am I better off than he is?”)
- They haven’t helped themselves or the other in any way whatsoever.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with this little meeting. Let’s just be clear: this is not effectivecommunication. This is two people talking out loud in public, passing time as they pass each other. And if you’re in sales or management, this type of conversation is useless. You cannot sell something or manage someone unless you have a good understanding of the person you are trying to influence. In order to gain that understanding you need the other person to open up and share his or her feelings, issues and concerns with you. Only then can you address those issues and influence the situation.
Ineffective managers or salespeople often think, “That person just doesn’t listen to me.” And they are one hundred percent correct. But why should anyone listen to us? We must first take the time to understand the other person by listening attentively to what he or she is saying. Then they will be interested in what we’re saying.
You cannot fake interest in a person. You either are interested or you are not, and the other person will gauge your interest by how well you listen.
EXERCISE OF THE WEEK
The easiest way to improve your listening skills is to practice reflecting back what the other person said. Start with “Let me see if I understood you correctly”… and then just repeat what they said. Or you can reflect back the feeling that’s conveyed by their words: “This must be very frustrating for you” or “This sounds really important to you.” The more you do this, the better you’ll understand what the other person feels, believes or wants.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.” Lee Iacocca
© 2008 – 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.