Marsha Egan gives her top tips to cultivate the art of listening
Everyone likes to think they’re a good listener. Do you think you are? Why do you think that? How often when you are listening are you actively taking in what is being said, and how often are you mentally forming your response and waiting for your turn to speak?
From the opposite perspective, how often does someone interrupt you when you are speaking? How does it make you feel? What do you think about a person who interrupts you? Do you find them selfish? Irritating? Immature? Disrespectful?
Whatever you feel when people interrupt you, I’d put money on it not being anything positive! If you think about it for a moment, when has interrupting someone ever gained anyone anything? Has doing so ever helped you in any way? I thought not.
We find interrupting rude because, at the heart of it is both selfishness and arrogance – “qualities” we find unpleasant. When we interrupt someone, we’re basically telling them that what we have to say is more important than what they are saying. It says that you know better than them and that you are in some way above hearing them out. It tells them that you’re not interested in their opinion, and it shows a lack of respect. Do you want people to feel that way about you?
This all sounds rather negative, so let’s turn it around. If interrupting someone is so rude, then surely there’s no greater compliment than have someone listen intently to us so, if you want someone to feel validated and valued, listen to them properly. When you do so, you tell that person that you respect what they have to say. You tell them that you place value on what they are saying, and that they are deserving of your 100% undivided attention.
Effective listening is a skill, and interrupting people demonstrates a lack of it. Unfortunately, it’s a skill that’s nowhere near as common as you’d think.
Based on this woeful picture, the competitive advantage you can give yourself by honing your listening skills is considerable. When you listen to someone properly, they gain a positive impression of you. In a business environment, it’s easy to see how, repeated with employees, colleagues, managers, providers and customers, this could really develop your positive profile and, even better, they are far more likely to listen to you in return.
This is all very well, but what if you’re naturally a terrible listener? After all, we all have different skills and abilities. Some of us are naturally better at some activities than others. The good news is that, regardless of how good or bad your current listening skills are, you can improve on them. As well as being a skill, it’s also a discipline. Like riding a bike or playing an instrument, it can be learned, improved and mastered.
To get you st1arted, here are a few tips:
1. Make a decision to listen.
Listening is not merely the absence of speaking. If you’re going to listen well, then you need to make a conscious decision to do so. As the old saying goes, we have two ears, but only one mouth. Does this mean we should be listening twice as much as we speak, or devote twice as much effort to listening? Either way, you can’t do something well by accident – so decide to pay attention.
2. Open your mind, as well as your ears.
Don’t assume you know what the person will say, or what their viewpoint is. We all have preconceptions about individuals, but we need to ensure that they don’t act as a filter to bias our ears in favor of what supports our preconceptions and prevent us hearing what is actually being said.
3. Count to three.
A simple rule, but mentally count to three before you reply. If you do this every time you’re in a conversation with someone, you will find it impossible to interrupt, even accidentally. It gives the person you are speaking with the space to finish what they are saying, as well as assisting you to focus on the crux of the conversation and really understand the heart of the matter.
4. Pay attention.
What do you think about people who don’t look at you when you’re speaking? Do they come across as untrustworthy, or simply as if they are not listening? Eye contact is vital – it’s not just about listening properly, but also giving the speaker the impression of being listened to as well. If someone is worth listening to, then they are worth your undivided attention, so give it to them. That means no watching TV out of the corner of your eye, not writing a memo or reading the paper.
5. Show interest.
Use body language that shows the person you’re listening, such as angling your body towards them, and avoid visual cues that suggest you have better things to do, such as fidgeting.
Being a good listener is important not only because of what you might actually find out if you listen, but it also shows respect, enhances relationships and can help increase both your business and career successes.