Monday Mornings with Madison


When you’re interacting with someone, do you hear them or do you listen to them? And do you understand the important distinction between the two?

Listening is often treated as the same thing as hearing. but hearing is the sensory perception that uses our ears, while listening involves the active mind.  In the dictionary, we find two definitions to the verb “to listen.” The first is “to make an effort to hear something,” and the second is “to pay attention.” Both definitions highlight the fact that listening requires some effort on our part. The most skillful listening is empathic — an attentive, alert, non-judgmental focus that allows you to enter another person’s world.  

Learning how to listen empathically is one of the essential skills for success in business, just as it is in life. It creates trust and builds productive relationships.  in his book, author Steven R. Covey places it among the seven habits of highly effective people.  As he says, “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” Most of us, however, focus on ourselves and on what we have to say, and don’t pay much attention to how, or whether, we listen.  This diminishes our ability to connect with others. We fail to benefit from understanding the people around us; we fail to learn and grow.

Luckily, listening is a learnable skill.  Let’s look at a few simple tips to help you become a better listener.

Be receptive First, accept the other person’s desire or need to talk. Create a positive atmosphere by letting them speak their piece without jumping to conclusions or being critical and judgmental.  Don’t be so eager to share your point of view; sometimes being a sounding board is the best way to effect change.

Let your body reflect your mind  Simple non-verbal actions, like nodding your head, maintaining normal eye contact, and matching your facial expressions to the speaker’s will show that you are really listening. Try to be still.  Fidgeting or looking around conveys that you are bored.  Also, find an open, relaxed position, because crossing your arms or turning away suggests that you’re closed off.

Let them finish Remember your manners? You were probably taught by your parents and teachers not to interrupt other people and this includes not finishing their sentences for them. If you want to build relationships, you have to at least let people complete their thoughts. Even if you think you disagree or even if you think you already know what they’re going to say, put aside your own thoughts for a moment and just listen. You may learn something new that will change your point of view.

Don’t jump ahead People think faster than they can speak. This means that while the other person is still talking, we are already composing our reply in our minds. Instead, focus on what the speaker is saying. Apply your mind to understanding their point of view. This kind of attention will then allow you to come up with a more accurate response when it is your turn to speak.

Repeat or ask for clarification  The best way to make sure that you’ve listened well is to rephrase what you understand the speaker to have said. If you’ve captured it correctly, the other person will know that you have really listened. If, instead, you’ve misunderstood them, you’ll know that you need clarification. But avoid asking too many direct questions because this makes people feel like you’re grilling them. Instead make open-ended statements like, “It sounds as though you mean…” or “Can you elaborate more on…?”

Wait a second   When the other person has finished talking, take a second or two to process what has been said before you respond. Some people are afraid of moments of silence in their conversations, but this kind of pause demonstrates that you are actually considering what the other person has said. They may then open up more, giving you an even better chance of understanding their point of view.
Listening is a skill, and like other skills, it requires some discipline. But if you practice these techniques, you will begin to turn hearing into listening.

“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he gets to know something.”  Wilson Mizner

© 2009 – 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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