Listening is one of the most natural yet difficult things to do. We say we are listening. We pretend we are listening. Yet most of us aren’t, we are simply taking in the auditory notes of the other person. When we do listen, we can hear things that aren’t said and we learn more. Truly listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give anyone. It is also our key to success in life and business. Why wouldn’t you want to give this gift often, to yourself and others? Here are tips to make you a great listener.
- Turn off the voice in your head.
We have a running dialogue in our heads most of the time. When there is dialogue in our head we are not fully present and not able to hear what the other person is sharing. Instead of listening, we are thinking how we will respond. We may also be judging what the person is sharing.
- Have no agenda other than listening.
This is difficult. Did something just distract you from reading this? A text, an email dinging or that errant thought “pick up milk on the way home.” It happens in our conversations and you have experienced this as the person speaking and as a listener. There is nothing more powerful than giving your full attention to a person and their topic. Tune in to them fully with eyes, ears, body and mind. Silence the devices and distractions and listen.
- Prepare to listen
This is especially important with a difficult conversation which is likely charged with emotion. Prepare in advance. Know and understand your position and the outcome you wish to achieve. Then breathe, walk around the block, talk with a trusted friend, whatever you need to do to dampen your emotional charge. Now implement steps 1 & 2.
- Listen for words.
The words a person uses can reveal more than what is simply heard. Do the words used reflect fear or another strong emotion? Do they indicate defensiveness or lack of confidence? Words can also reveal where the person is speaking from: “I feel” is from the heart; “I think” is from the head; “I know” is from the gut. What does this tell you about the message?
- Pay attention to delivery
What is the person’s posture? Is the voice strong and resonant or soft-spoken and cautious? Did the person start from a position of strength and then fade as the conversation shifted? Are they animated in their body, firm and still or shrinking before your eyes?
- Listen for what is not said.
This can be the most revealing part of the conversation. What is not said. Is it as obvious as the elephant in the room? Or does it simply go unsaid? Is something you know is important to the person never mentioned?
This is active listening. The level most of us need to have in our conversations. How well do you listen?
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” – Stephen R. Covey