"I remind myself every morning: nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I'm going to learn, I must do it by listening."
-- Larry King
Listening: Why We Don't
(and the thoughts we're thinking when we're not)
There are many reasons we don't listen. Frequently it's because we're busy thinking! Do any of these distracting thoughts seem familiar?
I'd prefer to be talking. ("I'm more interesting." "Wait until you hear what happened to me!")
I'm busy getting ready to talk. ("I'm thinking about what I'm going to say." "I'm preparing my counter argument.")
I'm not that interested. ("I know what you're going to say." "Why do you ramble on and on?")
I'm somewhere else. ("I'm still in the meeting I just came from." "Please hurry up, I have so much to do.")
Listening: The Return on Investment
Listening is a great investment, with substantial benefits.
When we listen, we get better information.
When we listen, we invite a richer dialogue. When people feel listened to, they're more likely to go deeper. They feel more trusting and they are more forthcoming.
Unfortunately, people who don't listen are sometimes "the last to know." People who could give them valuable information, who haven't felt heard in the past, stop trying to tell them what they need to know.
When we listen, it saves time and money.
Do you ever think back to a conversation and wonder what the person said about a topic or what a particular comment meant? If so, you can either take the time to go back and ask for the same information again or you can guess at the answer.
Whether someone is explaining a complex topic, giving instructions, or conveying sensitive information, it saves time and money to be fully present. That's the time for listening, asking questions and getting clarification, rather than having to revisit what we didn't get the first time.
When we listen, we're more effective.
When we listen deeply, we understand better the problem a potential client needs solved, or exactly what a customer is looking for, or what really ails our patient. When we listen, we can be more helpful to our colleagues, truly discern what our boss is asking for, or perceive the guidance our report needs from us.
When we listen, we build better relationships.
When we listen, it is not just to understand the content, it is to understand the person, their perspective, what matters to them. Listening builds better relationships in our work world because it conveys: "I see you; I hear you; I respect you."
Listening: How to Do It
Start one conversation at a time. Choose a type of conversation or a person to whom you want to listen more closely.
Build in some reminders. This may be the hardest part: remembering to listen. Create some ways that will work for you. A note on your calendar next to their name? Something on the top of your agenda?
Be right there and nowhere else. If the conversation is important enough to take your time, it deserves your full attention. Push away all other thoughts.
Be other-focused. Give all your attention to the other person when they're talking. Hear each word, the tone of their voice, watch their facial expressions, their movements. What information are you noticing, in addition to their words? If your attention wanders, gently bring it back. Take notes if that's helpful.
Reflect on the experience. How did you do? Did you have a more valuable experience? Were there some better outcomes?
Whether you've been thinking about the topic of listening lately or not, I hope this article stimulated your curiosity. Consider experimenting, to find out if it's a skill (and a habit) you'd like to build. It couldn't be wrong!