Marsha Egan shares her top tips to help you sharpen your listening skills
I believe that there may be no finer compliment than to have someone listen to us. And listening to others is one of the best things we can do for other people.
Listening communicates importance and respect. When you attend to another person, you are saying, “I am listening to you and only you right now. You are getting all of me. No distractions. No mind wandering. No looking at the papers on my desk. No peeking at the TV over your shoulder. You’re getting all of my attention because you’re important to me.”
Interrupting is a sign that you are not a good listener. It says that you think your words are more important than those being spoken at the time. It says you think you know how the sentence will be finished. Frankly, it says that you are inconsiderate, and maybe even selfish.
Unfortunately, poor listening is extremely common. One study asked several thousand workers to identify the most serious fault observed in executives. The most frequently cited response, mentioned by 68% of the respondents, was the boss’s failure to listen.
I think it is an excellent business and career strategy to listen, and to have great listening skills. When you really listen to someone, he or she often feels quite good about you. And when it is your turn to speak, he or she is more likely to listen to what you have to say. What a great way for you to be heard yourself.
The good news is that no matter what your listening skills are now, your listening prowess can be sharpened. Listening is not only a skill but a discipline. It can be learned, and it can be perfected.
Here are some tips:
1. Decide to listen
Good listening starts with your conscious decision to do so. Do you remember the adage about having two ears and one mouth? Maybe we are supposed to listen twice as much as we speak. Listening discipline starts with the decision to listen.
2. Listen with an open mind
It is so easy to enter a conversation with preconceived ideas about the other person or their topic of discussion. And once you have a preconceived idea in mind, it is almost impossible to truly “hear” what the other person is saying. Your preconceptions act as a filter, and you hear only what supports your preconceptions.
3. Count silently to three before responding
This practice alone will stop you interrupting, and give your business associate the space to finish what they started. It will also help you focus on what is being said rather than what you are going to say. Stephen Covey admonishes people to “listen to understand, rather than respond.” I think that is great advice.
4. Eyes on the speaker
If you doubt the importance of eye contact, think of someone who doesn’t look at you when you’re speaking. Remember how it feels. Not particularly good. You intuitively know that eye contact is critical, so use it. Anybody worth listening to is worth looking at.
5. Full focus
Put aside everything else that is not related to the listening process. Don’t try to write a memo at the same time you’re listening to your colleague on the phone. Don’t try to read the newspaper at the same time your spouse is talking to you. Stop tapping your fingers or jiggling your foot. All those things suggest you have more important things to do than listen to the other person.
Being able to listen sincerely is not only an effective communication tool, but it can enhance your business and career success. Leaders listen. People respect good listeners. They trust them. Listening can give you new and powerful information and perspective. And most of all, listening exudes respect.
So, the next time you even consider interrupting someone, don’t. Count to three and listen closely instead.