Everybody's talking. Cell phones are everywhere. Meetings fill calendars, and spill over into spontaneous hallway and parking lot conversations (where the real work sometimes gets done). People tumble over each trying to get airtime, bandwidth and mindshare. With all that talking...is anybody listening?
There's a bottom line reason for learning to listen well. Good listeners get a job done better, faster, with less waste and rework. They "get the order right" the first time. Listening well can also be a creative process. Great listeners get good - and better - ideas by listening to their customers and colleagues well. In addition, listening is a gift, in a way.
Experts suggest that for many people, it is more important to feel heard than to actually get what they say they want. They want to know their ideas, their opinions were fully considered before a decision was made. Alternatively, feeling ignored or misunderstood is stressful, no matter what circumstance we're in. Listening isn't easy to do, or there would be more of it. Many people assume it's automatic, like eating, laughing or breathing. It's no surprise, though, if you know fewer than a handful of great listeners. If you didn't have great listeners to learn from, you can start today to learn to listen well. Follow these basic steps:
Prepare If you have a chance to prepare ahead of time, take a few minutes to focus. What's the discussion going to be about? What's the desired outcome? Is it for the speaker to share information? To get advice? To be heard? For the two of you to reach an agreement, or make a decision? Also, review what you already know from prior meetings or communications. The speaker may want to continue that thread of conversation. Or this discussion may be completely new. Go into it with an open mind.
Engage Face the speaker. Establish and maintain eye contact. Give him or her your full attention. You know what it's like to receive full attention - do that. Screen out distractions. Turn off your cell phone. Get away from your computer. Close the door. Be interested - or find a way to get interested - in the subject. Listen to the words, and try to picture what the speaker is saying. At the same time, try to understand the feelings the speaker is trying to convey. Notice nonverbal communication - expressions, posture, pace, pitch. If this is a difficult conversation, be especially careful to listen more than you speak. Let the speaker's words, ideas, and feelings in - whatever they are - before you react or respond.
Respond Ask clarifying questions, but wait for the speaker to end speaking before you do. Then wait a second longer. Don't ask artificial questions - those you don't really care about. Ask questions to clarify or deepen understanding. Reflect and encourage the speaker's thoughts and feelings, using his or her words. The discussion should be a flow, not a series of jerky conversational stops and starts, like being on a city bus in heavy traffic. Share your thoughts, if appropriate. Be careful here. Remember the purpose of the conversation. It may be more important for you to let the conversation to be mostly one-sided - with you as the listener - rather than for you to share ideas and thoughts, as well. Using a few of these ideas, or better ones of your own, may your next conversation be a great one, and may your next "listening" go well.
A Few Words About Listening:
Many attempts to communicate are nullified by saying too much. Robert Greenleaf
Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak. Epictetus
Only if we can restrain ourselves is good conversation possible. Good talk rises upon much discipline. John Erskine
The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention. Richard Moss
Jan Richards, J. G. Richards Consulting, helps companies improve profitability and revenues while decreasing business complexity and costs. This occurs in many different business-improving ways, such as by clarifying company visions, goals and priorities, creating strategic and action plans, and implementing effective, user-friendly business process design, management, and improvement practices. To learn more about how Jan can help your business, too, give her a call at 408-249-7287 or visit her website, http://www.jgrichardsresults.com or her blog, http://www.jgrichardsresultsblog.com