How good a listener are you?
Unfortunately, I’m a terrible listener and tend to do more than my share of the talking. I think I must be uncomfortable with lulls in any conversation. It’s time to get over it.
At least I recognize my foible and I’m making a sincere effort to become an active listener.
Some people listen with an abstracted air which shows that their thoughts are elsewhere. Some interrupt (Larry King and Bill O’Reilly come to mind) and will not hear you until the end. Rude, rude rude.
Interrupters want to relate a similar experience making your case only an illustration of their own. Ouch. If the shoe fits…
Listening is not just keeping quiet when the other person is talking, or being nice and courteous. It’s about understanding and remembering what the other person says. This builds a stronger relationship and prevents misunderstandings. Listening is really the best way to sell your ideas, services or products.
There is a course taught at some colleges called Listening 101. One of the points discussed in that class is “Do Not Rehearse” — that is, don’t spend your non-talking time thinking about how you will respond to the person, what you want to refute, or the cool story you want to tell next. (A bigger ouch.)
It isn’t enough to just be silent and let someone talk. To listen, really listen, we have to hush our internal monologue and put effort into hearing what the other person is saying. It takes real effort and energy to listen like this — actively listening, listening with engagement. It is far more than sitting passively while someone else talks.
Here are a few tips I’m trying on for size:
Don’t Try to Solve Other People’s Problems (unless they ask)
Men are often guilty of this. I was raised to be a problem solver. In my family, solving your own problems is a badge of honor. It’s a way to prove your ability to handle “real life.” And that’s great, up to a certain point. But as soon as you start venturing into the realm of solving other people’s problems, you’ve crossed a line if you’re offering unsolicited advice.
Work On Your Body Language
Practice facing the person you’re listening to, maintaining eye contact with them, and maybe even leaning closer toward them. It’s easy for your body language to give off the impression that you’re not listening, so fight that by actively giving a speaker your full attention. If you do this, people will respond more positively to you because you’ll be giving them what they all want: a free therapist (the old-school psychoanalytic type, that is).
Stay in the moment
Have you ever tried to carry on a conversation with someone who keeps gazing out the window, glancing at her watch, paying attention to everything but you? Think about how that made you feel. Not very important I’ll bet.
When you’re having a conversation it’s important to keep your focus on the person you’re talking with. Naturally, you’ll want to avert your gaze from time to time to avoid staring. But try not to become distracted by your surroundings. .
Don’t think it’s OK to multitask (triple ouch) when you’re talking on the phone. It’s easy to tell, and annoying as heck, when the person on the other end of the line is checking her email. Next time you begin a conversation commit to giving the other person your undivided attention.
The bottom line is that for people to want to listen to you, you need to listen first.