Constant improvements in technology mean you can communicate with almost anyone you want 24/7. A ring, beep, or buzz can get you reaching for your mobile phone quicker than a gunfighter at the OK corral. Does this come at the expense of your personal and professional relationships? How good are you at being ‘present’ and in the moment with your friends, family and business associates? Are you really listening, or waiting impatiently for your chance to talk?
Developing the important and underrated skill of listening can have a massive impact on your ability to positively respond, influence and interact with others. However, it’s not as simple as it may seem. Effective listening skills can be difficult to acquire and here’s why… Did you know, you talk at a rate of around 125 words a minute, yet have the ability to listen at a rate of 400 words a minute? The result is, you can find yourself way ahead of the person who’s speaking and get easily distracted, by your own thoughts, internal dialogue, or external factors.
These barriers, distractions and noise can be categorised as physical, social and psychological and include:
• Language, vocal tone, pitch and volume
• Location, distance and environment
• Disability, impairment, or tiredness
• Cultural and religious differences
• Different interpretation of what’s being said based on age, gender, class or your opinion of the person speaking
• Personal values and attitude
• Beliefs about yourself, others and the world around you
It’s natural for your mind to wander and you either end up thinking of something else; or the words you hear trigger a connection to something you’d like to share. You’ve now stopped listening and are waiting to interrupt. When you consider all the potential barriers, you’d be forgiven for wondering how you ever manage to communicate effectively. So, it truly does take commitment, effort and a genuine interest if you want to be an effective listener.
Here are 4 simple tips to help you on your way:
1. Put down the device
Technology is here to stay. You’ll probably use numerous devices such as a mobile phone, tablet and laptop to connect with your with friends, help run your business more efficiently and keep you entertained. All really useful, however, if you’re not careful, they can be detrimental to having meaningful personal interactions. It’s almost impossible to focus completely on anyone, if you’re face down in your phone, or answering emails while your colleague is trying to initiate a conversation with you.
Social networking is great, but can leave you being completely unsociable and unapproachable with people standing right in front of you. If you really want to make meaningful connections, put down the device, turn away from the screen and take a few minutes to be in the moment and give that person your full attention. Next time you meet up with your friends, family or colleagues, give it a try.
Agree to leave your phones in your bag or pocket and have a conversation where you really listen to each other. You’ll find you get a better understanding of the topic and appreciate other people’s perspective.
2. Tune in
Everyone’s favourite radio station is WIIFM…What’s In It For Me? Tuning in to them, puts you in their space and makes meaningful interactions more likely. This requires you to completely listen, so you make every person feel they’re getting your full attention. In Geoff Burch’s book Resistance is Useless…the art of business persuasion, he says “It’s not the gift of the gab you need, it’s the gift of the earhole.”
3. Be interested, rather than trying to be interesting
You can only tune in effectively if you really show you’re interested. There’s an old adage, people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. It may sound corny, but it’s true. Be curious about your colleagues, suppliers and clients. Ask open questions and really listen to what the other person has to contribute.
Machiavelli said “if you’re talking your giving information and therefore giving power away; if you’re listening and asking questions you’re gaining information, the raw material of knowledge, and therefore gaining power.”
People often talk a lot without getting to what they really want to say, so asking questions, reflecting back and summarising what you hear will help you to find out exactly what the other person thinks and feels.
4. Listen with empathy
One of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is, Seek first to understand, then to be understood, which means listening with empathy. Covey refers to this as the 5th Level of listening. It’s much more than just keeping quiet; it’s about getting within the other person’s frame of reference and tuning in, without interrupting or preparing your reply. You might have very different opinions, values and beliefs…that’s okay, as long as you learn to listen without prejudice and acknowledge their point of view before presenting your own.
Truly listening to someone is an underused, underrated and powerful skill that will improve the effectiveness of your communication and enable you to understand the motives and actions of others. If you want to win friends and influence people, go and give someone a good listening to.